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Irish doctors welcome rejection of Assisted Suicide Bill, call for palliative care

Irish Doctors have highlighted the importance of palliative care for people with terminal illnesses whilst expressing support for the recent decision from the Oireachtas Committee on Justice which rejected the Assisted Suicide Bill. 

In a letter published by the Irish Times, Dr Gabrielle Colleran, a Consultant Radiologist, Dr Eric Kelleher, a Consultant Liasion in Psychiatry , and Dr Miriam Colleran, a Consultant in Palliative Medicine, said that although they understood the intention of the bill was to be compassionate and respectful towards those with advanced, progressive and terminal illnesses, “the proposed Bill was unsafe and tried to define in law that a dignified death in Ireland was a death by physician-hastened death or physician-provided euthanasia.”

“It demeaned natural dying in doing so,” they continued. “This was a negative and devaluing message to both persons with terminal illnesses and their family caregivers.”

“We agree with the Oireachtas Committee on Justice in its conclusion that “it may have unintended policy consequences (particularly regarding the lack of sufficient safeguards to protect against undue pressure being put on vulnerable people to avail of assisted dying).”

The doctors also referred to other countries that have legalised assisted suicide, such as Canada and the Netherlands, pointing out how over time these countries have increased their criteria for eligibility for assisted suicide, and have removed safeguards, which were there to protect vulnerable people.

“Dr Will Johnston (Letters, July 5th) highlighted the worrying scarcity of discussion on the inclusion of persons with disabilities alone or mental illness alone having access to physician-delivered euthanasia and physician-prescribed hastened death in Canada,” they said.

“Patients with terminal illnesses will soon be able to access same day euthanasia and physician-prescribed hastened death in Canada but they can experience difficulty and delays accessing palliative care and psychiatric services there.”

“This is of particular concern in Ireland where lack of resourcing impacts access to care with severe difficulties in accessing inpatient and specialist multidisciplinary mental health services in the community. Patient safety and compassionate care must be at the core of end-of-life care.”

“Although some may try to polarise this debate, on both sides, most of us have this shared goal.

We need to prioritise access to disability, pain teams, palliative care and mental health services based on patient need not service availability and work together to ensure that all have timely access to quality care with compassionate, safe, end-of-life care for all," they said. 

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