AN Irish woman in the final stages of multiple sclerosis has been effectively blocked from travelling to Switzerland with a close friend following claims she was seeking to die by assisted suicide.
The two women, who have asked to remain anonymous, were approached by gardaí after booking flights to the central European country, where assisted suicide is legal.
The pair were planning to attend the Dignitas clinic in Forch near Zurich so the seriously ill woman could die in a comfortable setting and without suffering an unnecessary amount of pain.
However, officers became aware of the plan and warned both women that if the assisted suicide took place the surviving person would be facing up to 14 years in prison as the act is illegal in Ireland.
Pro-choice group Exit International spokesman Tom Curran said the move was a potential human rights issue.
He said this was because gardaí were effectively forcing a person to continue painful medical treatment for a life-threatening illness instead of allowing that person to make the decision herself.
“Rational people can decide that their terminal illness is no longer something that they can tolerate.
“They should get assistance to hasten the end of their life,” he said.
The women have asked to remain anonymous but confirmed the accuracy of the information to Newstalk.
At least 29 Irish people are registered with Dignitas out of a total worldwide support group of more than 6,000.
Any form of euthanasia is illegal in Ireland under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act, 1993, but assisted suicide is allowed in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the US states of Oregon and Washington, as well as Switzerland.
There is no suggestion of a legal review in Ireland in the immediate future.
However, a bio-ethics report by the Law Reform Commission recently proposed legislation that would give legal weight to medical directives — also known as living wills.
This means that patients could signal a wish to refuse treatment under certain circumstances.
The Medical Council of Ireland’s ethics guidelines state that doctors are under no obligation “to start or continue a treatment… that is futile or disproportionately burdensome, even if such treatment may prolong life”.
Medical professionals have raised concerns that there is relatively little legislative detail on the issue due in part to historical social issues in Ireland.
They believe that it is still unclear over whether medical directives could be successfully challenged by the state or patients’ relatives in court.
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