‘Assisted dying’ safeguards, ‘difficult to identify’, politicians told

Preventing vulnerable people from being unjustly targeted for ‘assisted suicide’ is a real difficulty, numerous contributors told a joint Oireachtas committee.

On Tuesday, the National Suicide Research foundation said: “It is difficult to identify what safeguards would be deemed sufficient based on the international experience and where responsibility lies in determining adherence to safeguards”.

It added that those who choose ‘assisted dying’ have some things in common with persons who commit suicide including, “living alone, having no children, and not identifying as being religious”.

“It is likely that the prevalence of mental health conditions such as depression are under-reported and undiagnosed in people who request assisted dying.”

Speaking at the same meeting, Léopold Vanbellingen, a doctor in Law at the University of Leuven and expert on assisted death laws said despite their alleged safeguards, “each of these national laws rapidly tend to pose a threat to the lives of vulnerable people”.

“We can identify at least three categories of victims of this inescapable threat: firstly, elderly people who are dependent; secondly, people suffering from mental illness; thirdly, healthcare practitioners.”

Representing the Irish College of Psychiatrists, Dr Siobhan MacHale, said the answer to patients not receiving adequate specialist palliative care is not to “end our patients’ lives”.

She added that “by creating one class of people for whom life is expendable, that particular view may be extended by society to all groups possessing such attributes [such as permanently disabled people].”