Protecting the Vulnerable

The current push for euthanasia in Britain has caused for some shocking revelations, in particular in relation to the attitude of euthanasia supporters towards the sick, the elderly and the vulnerable. Campaigners such as Baroness Warnock (who has been brought to Ireland by state-appointed bodies on issues such as embryo research) recently controversially declared that people with dementia had ‘a duty to die’ and that treating premature babies was a ‘waste of resources’.

In April 2009 the Irish HSE used taxpayer funds to sponsor a lecture by pro-euthanasia campaigner Len Doyal entitled “Why Euthanasia should be Legalised”. A huge controversy arose when the Life Institute helped to make this known. In the event, the lecture was cancelled when relatives of terminally ill patients expressed their anger at the outset.

The Life Institute produced an advertising campaign in May 2009, booking adverts in several local and national newspapers highlighting the need to oppose euthanasia.

AB_US_ProtectHL_EuthanasiaAdvert - Euthanasia Advert

In March 2010, a so-called “DIY Euthanasia workshop” was to take place in Outhouse in Dublin’s Capel Street, a centre which was purchased at the cost of €860,000 by the HSE (ie the taxpayer), and which continues to be almost entirely funded by the HSE to the tune of €200,000 every year. Australian euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke, was to host the event. Nitschke heads up Australian organization Exit International which assists people in committing suicide, usually by taking a lethal dose of a veterinary medicine, Nembutal.

Following complaints from the Life Institute to the HSE, the venue was withdrawn. The Life Institute wrote to the HSE Chief Executive, Professor Brendan Drumm, and the Irish Medicines Board regarding the proposed event, and following calls to the HSE the venue was withdrawn.

The Life Institute has commissioned a major report on euthanasia which will be issued this summer.  

Opposing Nitschke’s grisly workshops: Report from the Life Institute

February / March 2010

In February 2010 a strange and objectionable organization called Exit International announced that it would hold a “DIY-Euthanasia workshop” in London. The debate regarding assisted suicide has been heating up for years in the UK and Dr Philip Nitschke, who heads up Exit International, is not the first campaigner to attempt to influence the law and public opinion there, nor was this his first intended visit to Britain. However, on this occasion he decided he would also host a ‘suicide workshop’ in Dublin.

Nitschke courts controversy and had doubtless heard that, while the ugly business of euthanasia has reared its head of late in Ireland, it had met with determined opposition. It seems however that he had not expected such widespread public resistance to his distasteful campaign: he lamented to the Irish Times that “he had never encountered such resistance to his meetings”. That resistance led to four venues being canceled and to Nitschke’s reliance on the oddballs in an Seomra Spraoi to come to his aid.

Nitschke’s first publicized booking was with the Outhouse in Capel Street - a community venue purchased and maintained by the HSE. The Life Institute called the HSE and made a formal complaint. We then called the office of the CEO of the HSE, Professor Brendan Drumm, and pointed out that it was not acceptable that a taxpayer-funded venue be used for this objectionable event. We also called Dublin City Council, and we sent out an alert encouraging others to do the same. Within 48 the event had been cancelled in that venue.

Nitschke then moved to Buswell’s Hote. We called the hotel and sent out another alert. Pro-life people started calling in growing numbers. Buswells also cancelled the booking. Nitschke then moved his “workshop” to Macro Community Centre in Dublin 7 – another taxpayer-funded venue. On St Patrick’s day we sent out another alert and a press release saying “It is absolutely unacceptable that our taxes would be used to give a platform to this organization. What they are doing is dangerous and exploitative. Many families in Ireland have been touched by suicide and mental illness and this ‘workshop’ is cruel, illegal and disgusting.”

The Irish Daily Mail ran a front cover saying “Dr Death is on his way”. Pat Kenny picked up on the story and conducted a sympathetic interview with Nitschke, although the Australian revealed a little of his motivations when he said that he had taken on this ‘cause’ since it was ‘better than writing prescriptions'.

The Macro Centre received a pile of complaints about the proposed “suicide workshop” as did the co-sponsors of the centre, Pobal and Dublin City Council. They cancelled the booking.

Another booking in the Carmicheal Centre only lasted a matter of hours. Nitschke was lashing out at this stage, accusing pro-life people of a “well-orchestrated campaign of censorship”. The Life Institute responded by saying that this was not simply a matter of free speech and that encouraging suicide was illegal in Ireland. Niamh Uí Bhriain used radio interviews to call on Dermot Ahern as Minister for Justice to ensure the law was enforced to protect elderly and vulnerable people.

At this point an organization called Atheist Ireland got involved. They circulated an email decrying the efforts of “anti-choice” campaigners and called for Nitschke to be supported. At the last minute Nitschke was offered an Seomra Spraoi, a pretty scruffy backroom venue owned by a left-wing organization.

He was also brought onto RTÉ’s Prime Time and handled with kid gloves. At no point did the reporter or the presenter question him about his controversial past, in particular regarding the very dubious circumstances surrounding the “assisted” death of several mentally ill patients in Nitschke’s native Australia. Deirdre Madden, the UCC lecturer who devotes considerable time to supporting embryo research also featured on the program and was supportive of Nitschke.

Another alert was issued by the Life Institute calling on the Justice Minister to intervene. Niamh Uí Bhriain said that Dermot Ahern was now obliged to act, and to instruct the Gardai to stop the suicide ‘workshop’. She also said that the owners of the Seomra Spraoi should hold themselves accountable for the subsequent harm or death brought about by or to elderly or mentally ill persons because of the platform granted to Nitschke.

“All week the people of Ireland have made their voices heard in opposition to this gruesome and disturbing event,” she said. “This workshop which counsels and assists in the procurement of suicide is illegal under the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act 1993 and the Minister now needs to instruct the Gardai to get involved.”

The Act states that ‘A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years’. “Clearly what Nitschke proposes is against the law - and with good reason. ,” said Ms Uí Bhriain. “This law was written to protect vulnerable people from fanatics who believe that suicide should be a widely-considered and offered option. Nitschke’s workshop is not just morally wrong, it’s illegal.”

We’re going to keep the pressure on Minister Ahern to enforce the law. Nitschke says that he will be back, but also that his operation got “record” opposition in Ireland, and we’re determined he won’t be allowed to run these utterly objectionable, illegal workshops here again.