Sir, – I wish to take issue with the contention in your editorial (April 30th) that the introduction of assisted suicide in other jurisdictions did not open floodgates of abuse. A factor that weighed heavily with the High Court in the recent Fleming case was the phenomenon of so-called life-ending acts without explicit request.
According to the court, such deaths accounted for 0.4 per cent of all deaths (ie not just deaths through euthanasia) in the Netherlands in 2005, almost 1 per cent of all deaths in Switzerland and 1.9 per cent of all deaths in Flanders between June and November 2007.
The court went on to observe that “the fact such a strikingly high level of legally assisted deaths without explicit request occurs in countries such as Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland without any obvious official or even popular concern speaks for itself as to the risks involved in any such liberalisation [of the law on assisted suicide]”.
Given this common experience in these three European countries, it would be naive in the extreme to think that such life-ending acts without explicit request would not also occur here were assisted suicide to be legalised.
On the most conservative calculation, (ie assuming we could match the Dutch figure of life-ending acts without explicit request accounting for 0.4 per cent of all deaths and taking the lowest death rate here in recent years – 27,691 deaths in 2010), that still means that the introduction of assisted suicide would result in the deliberate killing, without their consent, of over 110 people a year.
In light of that figure, I can only concur with the view of the High Court in the Fleming judgment that serious risks attend any attempt at liberalising the law on assisted suicide. – Yours, etc,
School of Law,
Trinity College Dublin,