Proposals for Reform of the Law Regarding Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

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Introduction: As part of my Law Reform Project module, we have been asked to select a topic of our choice to examine and make proposals on for reform. The topic I have chosen to discuss is Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Ireland. This topic has been in the spot light recently as Dublin woman Gail O’Rorke has been in court charged with attempting to assist the suicide of her friend Bernadette Forde by making travel arrangements to Zurich for her to have the procedure and getting the medicine for her to end her life. Today, the jury of six men and six women delivered a not guilty verdict. This is the most recent case in Ireland however this issue has been tackled in the courts previously, which I will discuss later. History of Euthanasia: “The word euthanasia stems from the Greek words “eu thanatos” meaning “good death” and refers to the action of a third party, usually a doctor to deliberately end the life of an individual.”[1] The concept of Euthanasia was founded in ancient Rome BC long before the Christian religion came to be. The value that is placed on an individuals life today is not the same as it was then and doctors often committed ‘mercy killings’. The famous philosopher Plato wrote that “Mentally and physically ill persons should be left to death; they do not have the right to live.”[2] The first change in attitude came after the Hippocratic Oath was created which states that “I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel” [3] following this, the act of euthanasia in Rome was considered to be a crime of murder, however many carried on these ‘mercy killings’ to relieve patients from the pain they were suffering. This shows that the practice of Euthanasia has been around since nearly the beginning of time and people will always have different opinions on the matter either legally or morally. What is Euthanasia? In order to discuss how I believe the law needs to be reformed in this area, it is important to have a firm understanding what Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide is. There is different kinds of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide:

  • Voluntary Euthanasia – This is when a person consents to their life being ended by a third party deliberately (Active Euthanasia)
  • Non – Voluntary Euthanasia – this may be when a person is unable to seek the procedure and another person makes the decision for them i.e. a family member, this will usually happen when it has previously been expressed by the patient.
  • Passive Euthanasia – This is where treatment is withheld that is seen necessary to maintain a person’s life and therefore causing their death. An example of this is to withhold antibiotics from someone with pneumonia.
  • Assisted Suicide – this is when a person gets information/guidance or medication from another person and takes their own life.

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