Legalising euthanasia risks ‘shunting’ those with untreated depression “down a path from which there is no return”, the Irish Parliament has been warned.
Dr Anne Doherty, Associate Professor at University College Dublin’s School of Medicine, told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Assisted Dying that there has been a “significant increase” in the number of women over 65 years old requesting to be killed in Switzerland and Oregon.
In addition, suicide among older women rose by 56 per cent in Oregon over a 20 year period after the US state legalised assisted suicide in 1997. Although the cause is unknown, she warned that older women have higher rates of depression and said if the spike was due to untreated depression, “that is something we would be really worried about”.
‘Very strong risk’
Dr Doherty raised concerns that if Ireland followed other countries in introducing euthanasia, patients who are unable to access mental health services may ask to be killed because they have “conditions that are not being treated”.
a path from which there is no return
She said “we need to ensure that such conditions are being picked up and that people are getting the specialist care they need and not necessarily being shunted down a path from which there is no return”.
Dr Doherty highlighted the situation in Canada, which legalised euthanasia in 2016 for the terminally ill but is now extending it to those with mental health problems from March next year.
She warned that there is “a very strong risk” of a similar situation occurring in Ireland – an expansion of the law due to claims it is discriminatory not to allow those with mental health conditions to request euthanasia.
The largest body of doctors in Ireland recently urged the Oireachtas not to legalise euthanasia.
The RCPI is Ireland’s largest postgraduate medical training body and a professional body for medical doctors with over 11,000 members.
In contrast, Irish Doctors supporting Medical Assistance in Dying, which was also invited to give evidence to the Committee, only represents around 100 doctors.
The Committee is due to make recommendations on the issue by March 2024.