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Medical Council denies removal of "deliberate killing" is "paving the way" for future change

The Medical Council of Ireland has told a Joint Oireachtas Committee that the removal of its ban on “deliberate killing” from its updated guidelines was not the body “taking a stance or paving the way for any possible future change” when it comes to assisted suicide.

The regulator of the medical profession in Ireland said that the removal of the sentence “should not be interpreted in this way,” adding: “The removal of this sentence does not diminish the law.”

The remarks were made during the opening statement of Dr Suzanne Crowe, President of the Medical Council, to the Joint Committee on Assisted Dying / Assisted Suicide on Tuesday.

Gript reported earlier this month that the ban on the “deliberate killing” – present in the council’s previous 9th edition of its medical guide – had been dropped from the updated version.

The newly published ethical guidelines given to doctors by the Irish Medical Council no longer contain a ban on the deliberate killing of Irish patients. 

The move has attracted criticism from one of Ireland’s most well-known Catholic Bishops, Bishop Kevin Doran, who expressed concern regarding the updated medical guidelines.

He questioned whether the Council had decided if it was acceptable to take part in such an act.

However, addressing the Oireachtas Committee today, Dr Crowe said the regulatory body “does not have a position” on assisted suicide.

“When drafting the 9th Edition of the Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Medical Practitioners, the Committee considered existing and newly enacted legislation and how it applies to the protection of the public from medical regulatory and legal perspectives,” Dr Crowe said.

“In relation to the direct work of the Committee to consider and make recommendations for legislative and policy change relating to a statutory right to assist a person to end his or her life (assisted dying) and a statutory right to receive such assistance, it is important to point out at this point that the Medical Council does not have a position on the topic.”

Dr Crowe said that she felt it “may be of benefit” to the Committee to address some recent commentary relating to one of the changes in the new addition of the Guide.

She went on to claim that the removal of the section on “deliberate killing” had been “misinterpreted” by some.

“A number or paragraphs in the 8th edition of the guide were edited, merged or removed following the consultation and drafting. One such paragraph in the 8th edition of the Guide does not appear in the 9th edition, namely “You must not take part in the deliberate killing of a patient”. This removal has been misinterpreted by some,” Dr Crowe said.

“The Guide states that the medical profession must comply with, and operate within, the law. As per legislation, it is illegal for all individuals, including doctors, to take part in the deliberate killing of a person, or to assist a person to end their own life.”

The head of the Medical Council said that the removal of the paragraph in question “was not the Medical Council taking a stance or paving the way for any possible future change, and should not be interpreted this way.”

“The removal of this sentence does not diminish the law,” she added.

Dr Crowe also referred to conscientious objection, adding: “In more broader terms relating to the guide, there is a detailed section on conscientious objection. Paragraph 42 details how a doctor may refuse to provide or to participate in a lawful procedure, treatment or form of care which conflicts with a doctor’s moral values.”

“In conclusion I would like to paraphrase the Guide by saying, Doctors hold a privileged position of trust in society. To maintain this trust, doctors are expected to demonstrate professionalism through application of the required skills and knowledge and adherence to high standards of professional conduct and ethics,” she said.

Dr Crowe acknowledged that patients are “individuals with diverse needs” and stressed that the guide “acknowledges their right to be treated with dignity and respect, and to participate in decisions about their treatment and care.”

She said that given the “constantly evolving” healthcare environment, the Medical Council intends, “over the next year and beyond,” to issue additional guidance on a range of different areas.

“With the evolving nature of the practice of medicine and delivery of healthcare in Ireland, the Council will be regularly reviewing what additional support/guidance practitioners may require to supplement the guidance already available in the Guide, and to align with national health policy developments.”

The same Committee, on Tuesday, also heard from representatives of Voluntary Assisted Dying Australia and New Zealand (VADANZ).

Prior to their appearing before the Committee, Committee Cathaoirleach Michael Healy-Rae said: “We look forward to discussing what training might be required for doctors and healthcare professionals working within an assisted dying system and what learnings we can take from the implementation of New Zealand’s system if AD is introduced here.”

The Committee heard from doctors providing assisted suicide in Australia and New Zealand that “overall, the experience of our providers has been that involvement in VAD is fulfilling and rewarding for them, and empowering and comforting for the patients who elect to avail themselves of this option.”

Meanwhile, Bishop Kevin Doran questioned whether the Medical Council’s dropping of the ban on deliberate killing was an oversight, “or is it the case that the Medical Council has now decided that it is acceptable for doctors to take part in the deliberate killing of a patient?”.

“Even if assisted suicide were to be legalised, for example, that of itself would never make the killing of patients ethical,” he said in a statement which made headlines on Tuesday.

The Bishop also told Gript that he had heard that a large number of doctors had expressed concern to the Medical Council on the removal of the prohibition.

He added that there were, “unfortunately, numerous defects in the new edition of the Guide”.

“I have written to the president of the medical council seeking clarification, but my letter has received neither a reply nor even an acknowledgement,” the Bishop of Elphin said.



Maria Maynes



This article was first published on Gript and is published here with permission



Photo Credit: Online Marketing / Unsplash


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