FARMING POLL 2015: Half of farmers support assisted suicide

Assisted suicide should be allowed in certain circumstances, according to a national survey of farmers.

The Irish Examiner/ICMSA poll found a majority (53%) agreed that assisted suicide should be permitted in certain circumstances, with 22% strongly in favour.

However, 25% of respondents were strongly opposed to such a move.

Support for a change in the law was strongest among the 35 to 44 years age group, at 66%, while the lowest level of support was among those aged 65 and over, at 34%.

Support for such a measure was also lower among regular Mass-goers. Among those who said they attended Mass every week, 19% said they were strongly in favour and 23% said they were slightly in favour, but 40% of respondents said they strongly disagreed with any changes to the law to allow for assisted suicide.

Tillage farmers were most in favour of any legal change on the issue, at 70%, and respondents who also worked off-farm were marginally more likely to back a change than those who work exclusively on a farm.

Tom Curran, partner of the late Marie Fleming, who fought and lost a right-to-die case before the courts, welcomed the poll findings and said a bill he is preparing on the issue will be put before the Oireachtas in the coming weeks by Independent TD John Halligan. The bill was due to be finalised earlier this year but was delayed, meaning the Waterford TD will introduce it as a private members’ bill this term.

Mr Curran said in the bill, the criteria for permitting assisted suicide is that the person has a terminal illness or an illness that will bring about death, and that death is imminent — within a year.

He said the definitions used in the bill were drawn from the World Health Organisation and that safeguards include the views of two qualified professionals and that the person in question is shown to be clearly competent and is deciding on their own behalf without outside influence.

“We are quite open to amendments to the bill,” he said, adding that he is in favour of laws and the system currently operated in the US state of Oregon, not in Belgium or Holland. “The one thing that I would not like to see is that it is voted down immediately. Part of the process here is to have the issue debated openly.”

Earlier this year, a new organisation opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia, Hope Ireland, said allowing assisted suicide would be catastrophic. Its director, Kevin Fitzpatrick, said not enough safeguards could be put in place. However, Mr Curran said: “I appreciate that people have fears but that is pure conjecture. That is his opinion.”

The president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA), John Comer, said the question of assisted suicide was no longer seen as an aberration or something automatically criminal, but was emerging as the “ultimate — certainly final — manifestation of an individual’s human rights”.

“The question for me and, I’m sure, other members of ICMSA is how we can ensure that in these cases — which are already terrible and tragic to begin with — that we don’t have a situation where subtle pressure is brought to bear on the sick person to somehow ‘spare’ some other party further distress by bringing matters to a close,” he said.

“The question of taking your own life is enormous and is literally a matter of life and death. But an equally enormous question is what factors are allowed to ‘feed into’ the making of that decision and, just as importantly, who is allowed to ‘feed into’ the decision-making.

“How can we ever be absolutely satisfied that the person choosing this option has arrived at the decision on their own and without the influence of some other party who might have considerations outside the comfort and dignity of the desperately sick person ostensibly making the decision?

“That’s the question that will cause most disquiet.”

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