Opposing views on legalising assisted dying to be heard at Oireachtas committee

Swiss organisation Dignitas says ‘freedom of choice’ should be upheld but Dutch academic warns over high rate of assisted suicide following legalisation in the Netherlands

Voluntary assisted dying should be legalised as a choice for Irish people, according to Swiss organisation Dignitas.

Representatives of the organisation, which offers “physician-supported accompanied suicide” at a centre in Switzerland, are to appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying on Tuesday.

The committee will also hear from Dutch academic Professor Theo Boer who has concerns about the expansion of assisted dying in the Netherlands.

“My critique arises from what I have seen happen in practice,” says Mr Boer. He cites a significant rise in numbers of people availing of assisted dying in the Netherlands saying it has quadrupled in the last 20 years.


An opening statement from Dignitas says that in 2020 “one Irish resident travelled to our non-profit membership association... to choose legal, professionally conducted physician-supported accompanied suicide (voluntary assisted dying).”

It adds: “Voluntary assisted dying should be legalised as a choice for the Irish alongside other options to soothe suffering and improving quality of life, may it be palliative care, hospice work, suicide attempt prevention, good care in old age, and more.”

The organisation says it had 80 Irish members in 2022.

When signing up for membership with Dignitas people are asked to provide their motivation for doing so on a voluntary basis including whether they support its “endeavours to lift the existing taboos of suicide, enforce patients’ rights, freedom of choice and self-determination in life and at life’s end” or that they suffer from a disease and “wish for an accompanied suicide when the time comes”.

Dignitas is to tell the committee that its Irish members would like Ireland to follow the example of Switzerland and “the growing number of countries which have legalised voluntary assisted dying.”

Its statement adds: “They should have what everyone deserves: a legal way to exercise the human right of freedom of choice on all options of professional care to soothe suffering and end life, at their home.”

Mr Boer, a professor of healthcare ethics, at the Protestant Theological University Groningen, is to tell the committee that he has “switched from being moderately supportive of the Dutch euthanasia law to being increasingly critical.”

In his statement he uses the term assisted dying to cover euthanasia – where a doctor ends the patient’s life at their request; and physician assisted suicide – where the doctor hands a patient a deadly poison to end their own life.

He says: “Interestingly and very importantly, 97 out of 100 assisted deaths in my country are the consequence of euthanasia.

“Obviously, most patients shy away from performing the act themselves.”

He says he is not categorically opposed to assisted dying adding: “I can still imagine that killing a patient or hastening their death at their request can be a reasonable exception to the prohibition to actively and intentionally kill an innocent human being.”

Mr Boer says the average proportion of assisted deaths nationally stands a 5.2 per cent, but “in some neighbourhoods assisted death accounts for 15 per cent to 20 per cent of all deaths.”

He also raises concern at the “expansion of the pathologies underlying a request to die” from patients who “dread to spend their last days or weeks in pain and agony” to patients that “fear years or decades of loneliness, limitations, and care dependency.”

Mr Boer says: “In the Netherlands, as in other countries that have legalised assisted dying, this expansion is motivated by a logic of justice: Why euthanasia only for terminal patients?... Why only people suffering from an illness rather than anyone in unbearable and irremediable suffering?

“So that is why we have now a law in parliament that legalises euthanasia for all people over 74, with or without an illness.”

Mr Boer is to tell TDs and Senators that their “present considerations and upcoming decisions are among the most consequential a parliament can ever make.

“I sincerely hope that your parliament seriously weighs in all these experiences.”

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times