On Wednesday last, the Dáil voted through the second stage of the Euthanasia Bill. 81 TD's voted in favour while 71 TD's voted against. Debate continues as to whether this should be open to a Referendum or simply voted on by the Dáil.
'Euthanasia', sometimes referred to as 'Assisted Suicide' or 'Physician Assisted Suicide' is 'the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or in an irreversible coma.' Others prefer to call it 'Merciful Release' or 'Easeful Death.' Is this something we should want available and practised in Ireland? Three things we need to consider:
Thinking about Euthanasia is not just a philosophical or intellectual issue, it is deeply personal. We all know of loved ones who have suffered during their life or towards the end of their life, and none of us wants those most dear to us to be in pain. But it's not just our loved ones. We, too worry and fear about our future. What if I experience dementia? What if I am paralysed because of an accident? It's a deeply personal issue that affects us all.
In our recent past Euthanasia was not a consideration, but changes in society have led to it becoming legal in some countries and encouraged in others.
(i) The advancement in medicine means we now live much longer. On average 82 years as opposed to 66 years in 1950. While this brings huge benefits it means we are more likely to experience serious or terminal illness. (ii) The social impact upon families means we are more busy and have less time to care for older or sick family members. Many live much further away so can't provide the care that is required. (iii) Care and nursing homes are an expense and can lead to crippling financial costs both to individuals and the state.
These and other influences mean that Euthanasia is becoming more and more likely, rather than less likely. The sad reality is we will all one day die and for some that will involve painful suffering. For some it will be physical, others mental. In need of 24 hour care, unable to feed yourself and needing to be changed and taken to the toilet. No one wants a painful death and no one wants to see their loved ones suffer. For some the only option is the right to end life. As many supporters of Euthanasia will argue: 'My Life. My Death. My Choice'.
But it's not just personal it is a deeply ethical and moral issue.
Presently, Euthanasia remains rare and is only legal in six countries, in one Australian state and in nine US states. The Iona Institute in Ireland noted that: 'In both the Netherlands and Belgium, assisted suicide was initially made available for terminal illnesses only but soon the law was changed to include non terminal conditions including psychiatric illnesses.' A study published in 2015 in the British Medical Journal shows that of 100 patients who requested euthanasia for psychiatric reasons not even one was terminally ill. They suffered from mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, eating disorders, the most frequent diagnosis was depression. If assisted suicide became legal in Ireland it would only encourage suicide as Joan Freeman founder of Pieta House said: 'You are actually, nearly, encouraging people who may be feeling suicidal to die with dignity – and suicide is never the answer.'
Belgium also allows children of all ages to choose euthanasia, provided parental consent is granted - the youngest child to use this provision was 9 years old. In 2019 the state of Oregon in the U.S. removed the 15-day waiting period, meaning, a person who is approved for assisted suicide can die within days, and if depressed, loses the opportunity to change their mind. It is for reasons such as these that The Royal College of Physicians in Ireland stands opposed to the Bill.
Euthanasia is not just a Personal and Moral issue, it is a Biblical and Theological concern. Genesis records the creation of Humanity by a loving and personal God: 'So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.' (Genesis 1v27) Later we get a more detailed account: 'The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.' (Genesis 2v7) God Forms and then God Fills with the breath of life. God gives life. God sustains life. God rules life.
Of course the alternative is that we are simply here by chance. A random collection of atoms and molecules that have evolved over time. We have come from nowhere and we are headed nowhere. We are simply the result of some impersonal scientific process. If that’s true we are free to do with life what we want. We are autonomous independent beings, with no moral compass.
We decide who lives and who dies. It's My life. My death. My choice.
But if we are a special creation of God, made in his likeness, given the breath of life, then we are not free to choose whatever we want to do. We are formed by God and filled with life by God. God gives us life so God rules our life.
Because we are made by God we are all equal in value and worth regardless of race, age, gender or health. All life is precious and worth caring for and providing for. As the influential author G.K. Chesterton wrote: 'People are equal in the same way pennies are equal. Some are bright, others are dull; some are worn and smooth, others are sharp and fresh. But all are equal in value for each penny bears the image of the sovereign; each person bears the image of the King of Kings.'
Life is beautiful and it is our responsibility to nurture, protect and care for all life.