A large crowd turned out to hear last night’s College Historical Society (Hist) debate on the right to die, at which Tom Curran, the partner of campaigner Marie Fleming, spoke in support of the legalisation of assisted suicide.
Ms. Fleming was a long time sufferer of multiple sclerosis who wished to take her own life to relieve her of her suffering but could not due to her illness. She fought a long and drawn out court case against the Irish state so that Mr. Curran would not be prosecuted in assisting her in taking her own life. The court ruled against her appeal in April 2013 and she died of her illness in December of that year. Mr Curran has continued to publicly advocate the legalisation of assisted suicide even following his wife’s death, as a co-ordinator for Exit International.
Speaking in favour of the motion “This House Believes in the Right to Die” , Mr. Curran said that the same number of people would be dying if assisted suicide were legal. Instead of dying in pain and suffering, that they would be able to die in a manner of their own choosing, free from suffering as much as possible, he said. He also clarified that he did not want to euthanasia to be legalised, such as in Belgium or Luxembourg, but rather for assisted suicide to no longer be a criminal offence like in Germany or Switzerland.
The main difference between assisted suicide and euthanasia is that in assisted suicide the patient is in complete control of the process that leads to death because he/she is the person who performs the act of suicide. The other person simply helps (for example, providing the means for carrying out the action).
Towards the end of his speech, Mr. Curran read a letter that he had received from a woman who is going to take her own life this Saturday in her bedroom surrounded by her family and a few close friends. “I would never tell anyone to take their own life,” the letter read. “But why should they be able to tell me that I can’t end mine?”
The other guest of the night was Senator Ronan Mullen, who spoke against the motion. He argued that the individual who chooses euthanasia is not the only person who is affected by it. Mr Mullen urged people who are considering taking their own lives to seek out care and pain relief instead of taking their own lives. He said that euthanasia can change people’s perspectives on their lives when they are at their weakest, perhaps meaning that they make a choice they would otherwise have never even conceived as a choice.
Clare Ní Cheallaigh proposed the motion, saying that although life is valuable to individuals, that does not mean that life is necessarily an inherent good. She rebutted the argument that people make the decision to take their lives under duress by saying that everything in life happens under coercion, and that we shouldn’t use that as a reason to force people to live.
Stephen Barr, a member of the Hist committee said that the problem arises when you have to legislate for the right to die. He argued that if you extend the right to everyone, that too many people who can only only focus on the moment will want to die. He also said that if we legislate for specific groups, we are designating people for whom it is OK to die.
Ludivine Rebet brought forward the idea that we need to give control of the decision back to the individual. She pointed out that many people in this position feel like their life decisions are out of their control and that if they were able to make their own free decision, that this could bring them a sense of dignity which they often feel they have lost.
Sam Browne opposed the motion on the basis that the state cannot decide for people that their lives are less valuable than the lives of others. He said that we have an obligation to give people who wish to take their lives all the necessary care that they require in order to reclaim their diginity.
Izzy Sweeney proposed the motion, saying that although people can sympathise with someone in such a position, we can never fully empathise with them nor fully understand the exact extent of their pain and suffering. She argued that sometimes care is not enough, and that if the individual themselves feels that this is the case, then who are we to say no.
Sophie Fitzpatrick, another member of committee, opposed, saying that this creates a criteria for those who should die and that it devalues the lives of those who fits this criteria. Shen also pointed out if an individual decides to be euthanised, that this can place a massive burden on those who assist them in taking their life and that many people would not be comfortable with such an action.
Daniel Strunk, a cancer survivor, drew on his own experience of suffering at the hands of an absolutely terrifying and debilitating illness. He argued that it can also be extraordinarily draining and painful for one’s family, to see their loved one in so much pain for so long. Although he himself fought to survive, he pointed out that some diseases cannot be survived or can leave someone without a sense of dignity. He argued that taking one’s own life can be an act of selflessness, alleviating your family’s suffering at the same time as relieving you of your own.
Ronan Mac Ghiolla Rua said that we cannot know the effect that taking one’s life can have on an individual’s family and friends. He also argued that such a decision can affect other people in society and that we cannot know the effect it will have on them either.
The motion was put to the floor and was carried by an overwhelming majority.