Issue of assisted suicide ‘coming down the tracks’ for Ireland

EU Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly says insurance companies paying out for euthanasia

Emily O’Reilly was speaking at the Conference on Strengthening the Voice of Older People. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times/File Photo

Emily O’Reilly was speaking at the Conference on Strengthening the Voice of Older People. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times/File Photo


The EU Ombudsman has said some insurance companies are now paying out for euthanasia procedures and that the broader issue is “coming down the tracks” for Ireland.

Addressing the Conference on Strengthening the Voice of Older People in Dublin on Friday, the former Ombudsman for Ireland Emily O’Reilly recounted the “love and compassion” that was shown to her own dying mother during her hospice treatment over the last two years, and referenced some “nuanced” objections to the introduction of assisted suicide legislation in European countries.

“I do not think that I would be wrong to speculate that over the next few decades, as the older population increases as people live longer with chronic illnesses such as dementia, that EU cultural norms will develop around these matters, and that Ireland will not be immune to these,” Ms O’Reilly said.

“It would appear that some health insurance companies are already providing insurance to pay for euthanasia and assisted suicide, a dry commercial procedure that further embeds the normalising of what to us in this country is not considered to be a normal act.

“A more nuanced objection is that endorsing euthanasia in any form is the start of a process of normalising medically-assisted dying which will gradually spread into areas currently deemed taboo,” she said.

While saying she had an impartial stance on the matter, she recalled the case of a Belgian friend whose elderly relative’s death was “being hastened”.

“I further reflected on what some Europeans growing increasingly used to these practices would say had they walked through the corridors of Harold’s Cross Hospice as I did on-and-off over the last two years and saw the men and women there with little obvious quality of life, but to whom much care, love and compassion continued to be given,” she said.

Euthanasia is currently legal in EU states such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, and the topic continues to be the subject of divisive debates.

Lunacy Regulations Act

Representatives for event organisers and elderly advocacy service Sage also announced that Ireland’s controversial Lunacy Regulations Act is expected to be replaced next month by the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Bill 2013.

The move will see the State’s existing Victorian-era laws regarding a person’s decision-making capacity with a modern bill, which stipulates that can rely on a decision-making assistant or a co-decision-maker rather than automatically being made a ward of the court.

Groups representing older people have welcomed the proposed change, but Sage manager Mervyn Taylor urged clarity in the new approach, saying “there’s no point replacing Victorian with vague”.

Ms O’Reilly said she expects the Bill will allow Ireland sign up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, as the country’s laws should no longer contravene Article 12 which requires appropriate measures for people with disabilities to be able to exercise their legal capacity.

The event marked the launch of a new set of standards put forward by Sage which aim to ensure adequate support and advocacy for older people.

In her own assessment, Ms O’Reilly said the standards reflected that older people are not all the same and that Ireland should continue striving to offer a rights-based approach in line with international best practice.

“Older persons have the same human rights as everyone else in society, it’s just that some of those rights are more likely to be infringed in the case of older people than is true for the population more generally,” she said, talking in particular about the risk of social exclusion, disempowerment and exploitation faced by elderly people.