Right to die is a hard sell... even for PR guru Cartan Finegan

Cartan Finnegan, 86, wants the right to die at a time of his choosing if and when the Parkinson’s disease he is living with becomes too much for him to bear.

In his marketing career, Cartan Finegan helped launch the Kerrygold brand in key markets, sold Ireland as a tourism destination when the Troubles were deterring visitors, brought the Dart acronym into everyday use and introduced hard-hitting ads aimed at reckless motorists while overseeing the first national road safety strategy.

Now retired, he has taken on another project but he’s finding its message a little harder to sell.

Cartan, 86, wants the right to die at a time of his choosing if and when the Parkinson’s disease he is living with becomes too much for him to bear.

The Co Carlow native, who spent much of his life living in Dun Laoghaire, decided to take matters into his own hands last year and set about researching the topic but, as he tells in his latest collection of writings, things didn’t go according to plan.

He recounts how he came to the decision “after living a fruitful and productive life and having no fears in the next world”.

“I believed it would be prudent to have a pill to execute a finality based on my experience of seeing my brother and friend die in a nursing home after years of illness,” he says.

“Not wishing to experience the same, I decided to research Exit International’s [an advocacy group] website and download a book from the internet,” he says.

His research led him to the name of a prescription drug, illegal in this country, and also a veterinary product, which he considered procuring from the local pound. At the same time, he rang a close relative in England to see if she could obtain the tablets mentioned.

“She panicked and immediately rang my doctor who instantly called me in. I told him of my thinking and belief that when things got really bad, I could exercise the option.

 Tom Curran with his partner, the late right-to-die campaigner Marie Fleming.
Tom Curran with his partner, the late right-to-die campaigner Marie Fleming.

He stated when you mention something like that to a relative, “the shit hits the fan” and immediately wrote me an involuntary commitment to St Vincent’s Hospital.”

At first, Cartan didn’t appreciate the consequences of his actions.

“He [the GP] instructed my carer to deliver me immediately to the hospital. I persuaded her to bring me home. I rang my daughter in London who suggested I go to the yacht club for a couple of pints, which I did.”

However, then things took an unexpected turn.

“In the morning my carer, accompanied by two gardaí, brought me to the A&E section of St Vincent’s Hospital,” he said.

He says he was sedated there and transferred to another section of the hospital for interview and examination by a psychiatrist.

Concerns for his state of mind were understandable. Cartan had suffered from depression in the past and describes in his writing the turmoil he experienced and how he eventually went to his doctor for help and began taking anti-depressants.

He says he felt lucky to have come through the bad patches and had become adept at monitoring his own moods so that he could take swift action if “the black dog was sniffing at me”.

However, now he had a doctor quizzing him on whether he had ever had suicidal thoughts and he had to admit that he did. “I said I thought about it but rejected it as a method of solving my depression.”

Nevertheless, he found himself committed to St John of God Hospital, a dedicated psychiatric facility, where his first night’s sleep, in a shared room, was interrupted by an unruly room mate who had to be subdued by two members of staff.

The incident earned him a transfer to a single room in what he recalls was a high- security section but that too brought its issues.

“I survived in this environment for 10 days disturbed only by persons entering my room claiming it was theirs,” he says.

After this period, and several sessions with the psychiatric team, Cartan was moved again to a more open part of the hospital where he was allowed potter around unaccompanied.

However, if the “magnificent vista of tennis courts and garden walks” cheered him up, it wasn’t to be quite the harbinger of liberty he hoped for.

For while it was agreed he could be discharged from the hospital, it was on condition that he be moved to a nursing home “subject to certain surveillance”.

It was there that he finished his latest collection of writings, named My Last Hurrah!, which he launched for friends and family in his beloved Dun Laoghaire Yacht Club, with donations going to Blackrock Hospice.

He had already written and self-published two previous memoirs and an account of the first post-apartheid elections in South Africa where he was deployed as an international observer.

His latest collection revisits some of those stories and also includes his views on abortion, Irish Aid policy, the Labour Party, voluntary euthanasia and other issues he has not been shy of sharing with newspaper letter pages over the years.

He decided to bring it to a wider audience after reading in this newspaper an interview with Tom Curran, partner of the late right-to- die campaigner Marie Fleming, in which Mr Curran disclosed he had, despite risk of prosecution, honoured Marie’s wishes to die before multiple sclerosis stole her ability to communicate, and how he had also helped scores of other terminally ill people to put in place plans to control the timing and manner of their death.

Cartan has also written to the Government urging support for the Dying With Dignity Bill introduced by now junior minister John Halligan last December which provides for assisted suicide in certain circumstances.

As a private members’ bill, it relies on a lottery to decide which draft legislation is progressed. Tom Curran has also called for it to be given priority.

Cartan knows it’s not an easy topic but rather describes it as a “dilemma between the person who believes there should be a right to terminate their life and the legal profession that is constrained by law to adopt a certain course and medical professions who are scared stiff of public controversy, irrespective of what they may believe warrants attention and change”.


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