New inquest verdict for prescription-drug-related deaths ruled out
Minister for Justice rejects potential new verdict proposed in ‘Jake’s Bill’
Minster for Justice Charlie Flanagan has ruled out the introduction of a new verdict at inquests which could record suicides as having been caused by prescribed medication.
Stephanie and John McGill Lynch, whose 14-year-old son Jake died from suicide weeks after being prescribed Prozac, are campaigning for reform of inquest verdicts because they believe his death was drug-induced.
They met Mr Flanagan after the Seanad voted down a Bill – known as Jake’s Amendment – which would insert a new section in the Coroners Act 1962, allowing for a verdict of “iatrogenic suicide”.
Under the proposed legislation, the verdict was defined as meaning “the ending of one’s own life where the effect of medical treatment undertaken by the deceased, including any prescribed medication, is the primary cause of such an action”.
Ms McGill Lynch said she and her husband, from Clondalkin, west Dublin, were “absolutely disgusted, traumatised” after being told by Mr Flanagan they should drop their campaign for a new verdict.
“I felt like my child didn’t matter as a citizen of this country. Jake was 14, he had a right to life,” she said. “The whole point of an inquest is to find cause of death, it is not to find somebody guilty.
“The verdict would have said ‘without apportioning blame’. We are not looking for anyone’s head on a plate. But we are looking for some kind of accountability.”
The inquest in 2015 into Jake’s death recorded an open verdict. It heard he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in early 2012, suffered from anxiety issues and was prescribed Prozac.
The inquest further heard of evidence that children on the autistic spectrum were at increased risk of suicide and that Prozac can lead to increased suicidal ideation in some patients, but not to increased instances of suicide.
“I’m not out to have Prozac taken off the market. But if we knew what our child was taking, there is not a hope in hell he would have had it and he would still be alive today,” Ms McGill Lynch said.
Sinn Féin Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who introduced Jake’s Amendment, said it was originally “uncontentious” among all parties in the Seanad but was blocked at the “11th hour”. “My suspicion is that senior medical professionals . . . spooked the Minister,” he said.
Mr Flanagan said the proposal from the McGill Lynch family is “well intentioned” but cannot be supported. This is mainly because the verdict would apportion “some liability on the medical practitioner who may have prescribed the treatment or medication for the deceased person”, he said.
“In addition, the Office of the Attorney General had advised that it would be legally unsound since such a new verdict would be capable of ascribing criminal liability to a person or persons who would be readily identifiable,” he said.
Mr Flanagan said a forthcoming Coroners (Amendment) Bill would provide for “a wider scope at inquests” to allow the broader circumstances of a death be examined, but it would not alter the existing rule that the coroner’s verdict does not ascribe civil or criminal liability.
“Liability in that regard must remain a matter for the courts,” he added.