The Irish assisted suicide case was launched by Marie Fleming, the wife of Exit International leader Tom Curran. She is challenging the Irish law that protects people from assisted suicide.
Fleming, who lives with MS, is arguing that the ban on assisted suicide will force her to die an undignified death. She is asking the court to allow her husband, Tom Curran, the right to assist her death without fear of prosecution.
An expert witness, Dr Tony O'Brien, a palliative care physician at Cork University hospital told the court that legalizing assisted suicide in Ireland would "muddy the waters" and it could put pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives. Professor Robert George from the Guys hospital in London England warned the court about the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the Netherlands.
The RTE News in Ireland reported on December 13 the following:
An expert in palliative care has told the High Court that changing the law on assisted suicide could put pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives.
Dr Tony O’Brien, a palliative care consultant, was giving evidence in the case of Marie Fleming, the Wicklow woman who has taken a landmark case challenging the criminal law on assisted suicide.
Dr O‘Brien said a removal of the absolute ban on helping someone to end their life would "muddy the waters".
He said he was fearful it could make people feel they were a burden on relatives, leading them to decide they wanted to end their lives.
Dr O'Brien said if a person had a right to choose their time of death and should there be a corresponding obligation on a physician to enable them to do so would cause him great alarm and would be entirely inappropriate.
Dr O'Brien then explained that, when properly used palliative care provides relief to human suffering, not death. He said:
Dr O‘Brien said palliative care when properly used was designed to enhance the life of patients and not to render them comatose, as had been suggested during the case.
He said it would be wrong to suggest there was "a pill for every ill" but palliative care treated the whole person and not just a condition or disease.
O'Brien then challenged the comments by American euthanasia promoter, Margaret Battin who compared palliative care to assisted suicide. O'Brien stated:
He denied that it was a common occurrence that the administration of pain killing medication towards the end of life often had the "double effect" of shortening life.
He said attempts to link palliative care to physician assisted suicide was misleading. This simply does not happen, he said. He said: "You could kill someone with morphine but it is difficult to do so because of the dosages involved. It is much easier to kill someone with paracetamol."
Dr O’Brien also said he was deeply concerned to hear of the pain and suffering being endured by Marie Fleming. He felt adequate palliative care could help to relieve this and would meet the needs expressed by Ms Fleming in her evidence.
He also disagreed with a witness for the plaintiff that hydration and nutrition were routinely withheld from palliative care patients towards the end of life, causing them to die from dehydration or starvation.
He said decisions about hydration and nutrition were separate clinical decisions, which were not connected.
Dr O’Brien said at times it may be more burdensome on a patient to administer fluids towards the very end of life and the decision would be made on a burden to benefit ratio.
The court then heard from Professor Robert George, who is an English palliative care consultant who was reported to have stated:
... changing the law on assisted suicide would be a reclassification of a form of killing.
He said there was a concern about the idea of creating a "slippery slope" to euthanasia in that "once the ending of life is viewed to be the best option the landscape would be changed completely".
He said it started as voluntary euthanasia in the
and then became non-voluntary for those for whom it was presumed to be in their best interest, then it moved to people with psychiatric disorders. Netherlands
Questions would then be asked who needs it and who does not and why could it not be done for children.
Prof George said killing people as a treatment or a solution would change society, making it a much more hazardous one.
Risks to vulnerable people would be high and could not be monitored adequately, he said.
There is a claim that euthanasia and assisted suicide were different things but he did not agree.
EPC is very concerned about the push to legalize assisted suicide in Ireland. We recognize that the Irish case was based on the Carter case in BC, a case that has been appealed by Justice Minister, Hon Rob Nicholson and will be heard from March 4 - 8, 2013 in Vancouver.