Emily O’Reilly warning over assisted deaths

Ireland could be exposed to the practice of euthanasia in the not-too distant future, European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has warned.

She told a major conference on advocacy for older people in Dublin that in some mainland European states euthanasia and assisted suicide were undergoing a “normalisation process”.

Euthanasia is legal in EU states such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide is legal in Germany.

“I do not think that I would be wrong to speculate that over the next few decades, as the older population increases, as people live longer but with chronic ailments such as dementia, that new cultural norms will develop around these matters and that Ireland will not be immune to these,” said Ms O’Reilly.

“These debates are well under way in other countries, with questions being asked as to whether a growing tolerance for these acts will cause governments to back away from treating its weakest members and whether older people themselves will come under increasing pressure to end lives that others might consider to be burdensome.

“It would appear that some health insurance companies are already providing insurance to pay for euthanasia and assisted suicide, a dry commercial procedure that further embeds the normalising of what to us in this country is not considered to be a normal act.”

Ms O’Reilly said a more nuanced objection was that endorsing euthanasia in any form was the start of a process of normalising medically-assisted dying that would gradually spread into areas currently deemed taboo. It was “coming down the tracks” for everyone, she noted: “We are all simply younger older people and all of us would wish to be treated just as our now selves when we become our older selves.”

Earlier, Ms O’Reilly referred to the death of her mother at the end of August. She had been ill in hospice nursing home care in Dublin for the past two years.

“Cultures of care and protection of human dignity need to be built by all of us who think at all about this world and the consideration that we give each to the other and especially so when others need us to stand beside them and to protect them from all harm — to be their voice when theirs has been stilled,” she said.

The conference was organised by Sage, a support and advocacy service for older people, and saw the launch of Nothing About You/Without You — Quality Standards for Support and Advocacy for Older People.

The six quality standards — respect; social justice; competence and compassion; accessibility; independence, and accountability — were developed to ensure there is a focus on the wishes of older people rather than on what service providers and family members think is in their best interest.

Supreme Court Judge Mary Laffoy said each of the standards were simply stated and clearly explained. They set out what was required of those who undertook support and advocacy work with older people.

“Too often we see the issues facing older people as related solely to health and social care. In doing so, we can sometimes forget the fundamental importance of values, standards, and the law in determining the well-being of citizens,” she said.

The standards are being launched 10 years after the scandal in Leas Cross nursing home and almost a year after that of Áras Attracta.


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