24.06.2020 Huge Interest in Hope Ireland webinar on Euthanasia

Huge Interest in Hope Ireland webinar on Euthanasia

500 participants registered for last Saturday’s webinar hosted by Hope Ireland. The event entitled ‘A conversation about euthanasia and assisted dying’ was addressed by Paralympic champion, disability rights advocate and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

The webinar also featured interviews with Professor Des O’Neill, Professor of Medical Gerontology, Trinity College, Dublin and Dr Sinéad Donnelly, Palliative Care Consultant and university lecturer based in New Zealand and formerly of Milford Hospice, Limerick.

Baroness Thompson who has participated in numerous parliamentary debates on the issue of euthanasia told webinar attendees that once you open the door to euthanasia there is no going back. She said people need to know the real implications of what a euthanasia culture looks like as opposed to the “Hollywood” presentation of it.

She referred to the prejudices in society against people with disability and how that feeds into the debate on euthanasia. During the height of the recent Covid-19 outbreak in England, she said ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ orders were placed on the charts of many people with a disability, without the medics who signed the orders stopping to think what they were doing. She said it is frightening the way lives like hers have no value in the eyes of some people.

Professor Des O’Neill said it would be very troubling if a legal framework allowing euthanasia was introduced in Ireland as it would “devalue and undermine the value of supporting people who have any type of existential vulnerability.”

He said that what has generally happened internationally following the introduction of euthanasia is that the older people or people with debilitating conditions don’t opt for euthanasia but that it’s typically people in late middle age or early old age  who have bought into prejudices against disability, prejudices against aging and in particular prejudices against life with dementia who are more prone to take steps to end their lives.

He said the challenge for society is to address these prejudices to dispel the myths and misrepresentations surrounding the aging process and living with certain debilitating conditions.

Dr O’Neill said the tragedy of euthanasia in places like the Netherlands is that the advanced care directives don’t take account of the fact that perspectives change as people get older and their circumstances change and become better at adapting to these changed circumstances. He said euthanasia “darkens and undermines” the social solidarity that we need to properly care for people in these situations.

Dr O’Neill addressed the issue of people opting for euthanasia because they feel they would be a burden on their family if they didn’t. The way to address this awful reality is not euthanasia but by putting the appropriate supports in place, palliative and other supports, so no one ever feels like a burden but know they are loved and cared for in whatever situation they find themselves.

Dr Sinéad Donnelly told the webinar that improving palliative care is the issue we need to focus on as a society, not introducing euthanasia. She described the ethos surrounding palliative care in Ireland as second to none and said that her experience of working in Ireland before moving abroad had a huge impact on how she looks upon end of life care, with regard to striving for excellence in caring for the individual who is dying and their family. She said those who influenced her career most, in addition to their high medical standards, had a caring holistic approach where you also learned to listen to the needs of patients “with the eyes and ears of your heart”.

Regarding the debate on euthanasia, Dr Donnelly said medics are usually very reluctant to put their heads above the parapet on issues of controversy, but on the issue of euthanasia she said doctors had no choice but to speak out. She said the role of doctors in the debate is huge as they are the people who would end up administering the drugs and injections if euthanasia were introduced.

At the closing of the webinar, Hope Ireland announced that they intend hosting more events on the same topic later in the year.