Growing debate on euthanasia and assisted suicide must be aware of ‘slippery slope’ – Neville

Fine Gael Mental Health Spokesperson, Dan Neville TD, today (Tuesday) said that the visit from Dr. Philip Nitschke , ‘Dr. Death’ as he is known, on Friday will spark a debate regarding the liberalisation of Irish legislation on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Deputy Neville warns that Euthanasia can develop into a ‘slippery slope’ and a full debate on the issues involved is required.

“As international opinion regarding euthanasia in cases of serious physical illness has become more liberal and with the increased control over biological life due to improvement in medical treatment there will be pressure to liberalise Irish legislation on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“Suicide was decriminalised in Ireland in 1993, the last country in Western Europe to do so. The act of the Oireachtas introduced at that time expressly criminalized aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the suicide of another. A person found guilty of such an offence is liable to imprisonment for a term of up to fourteen years. This clearly outlines the legal situation at present. Pressure will now come on how to interpret or even to change this.

“A survey by the Irish Association of Suicidology asked the question “People with incurable illness should be allowed to commit suicide in a dignified manner, do you agree or disagree? 26% strongly agreed and 22% slightly agreed. Euthanasia and assisted suicide will be debated and is becoming an issue which cannot be swept under the carpet.

“Apart from the serious moral and ethical principals involved, there are serious societal reasons for disallowing euthanasia.The main reason is the fear of developing a “slippery slope” whereby if euthanasia becomes acceptable under any circumstances, the boundaries of what is considered lawful killing would be stretched even wider. This has happened elsewhere.

“Where euthanasia and assisted suicide has been liberalised there is a blurring between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. The “slippery slope” is on the way to involuntary euthanasia for social reasons. It is possible that the elderly (especially those who are elderly and rich) become dispensable.

“The Hospice movement enables people, regardless of their illness to live life to the end, to live it with dignity and with efficient pain control. The debate must surround how we cater for and invest in facilities to ensure that those who are terminally ill have as good a quality of life and pain control as possible and as a means of doing this to invest resources in the Hospice Movement.

“The acid test of our society is how it protects the life of its most vulnerable citizens, the very young, the very old, the chronically ill, those with severe disability etc. As a nation we must never in any way compromise this.”