May 15, 2024

Ireland’s medical council gears up for legal assisted dying

In March, a committee of Ireland’s parliament recommended that “the Government introduce legislation allowing forassisted dying”.

If this is approved, Irish doctors will be ready to implement it. In the latest edition of its Guide to Professional Conductand Ethics, the Medical Council has deleted the sentence: “You must not take part in the deliberate killing of a patient.”

Professor Des O’Neill, a consultant geriatrician, has expressed his anger over the allegedly flawed process by which thechange in policy was made. In an op-ed in the Medical Independent, he complained that he had to resort to a freedom ofinformation request to read the minutes of the decision made by the Medical Council.

“the committee is saying what is legal is ethical, which has been quoted subsequently as the rationale for droppingthe long-standing and well-reasoned ethical stricture on euthanasia and assisted suicide. That this ethicallyimpoverished stance was adopted speaks volumes about either ethical illiteracy or else an unarticulated strategy toremove an important ethical principle from the guide.”

Professor O’Neill said that many doctors were unaware that the Council favoured an “if it’s legal, it’s ethical” stance.Moreover, even in the midst of intense public debate, this was kept under wraps. “That this under-the-radar processshould occur when significant public and political debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide was ongoing and prominentis very concerning,” he wrote.

The long-term consequences of the shift could damage the medical profession, he warned:

“failure to communicate and engage appropriately on a major ethical issue will do lasting damage to the credibilityand standing of the Medical Council as a focus for considered ethical reflection and support for not only presentand future generations of doctors, but also patients and the public.”