LawSoc’s fifth weekly debate considered one of the most serious motions to date, whether or not this house would legalise Euthanasia. The serious nature of the debate left presented a difficult task for Correspondence Secretary Tommy McDarby whose task it was to lighten the mood in advance of the debate. Summing up the both the debate and his task McDarby said Euthanasia is a tricky one’.
LawSoc was delighted in the course of this debate to welcome a series of guest speakers and former members to the FitzGerald debating chamber, including Tom Curran husband of Marie Fleming who famously brought a Supreme Court Case in 2013 seeking her right to die and Dr. Kevin Yuill Lecturer at Uni of Sunderland and author of ‘Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalization’.
Speaking first for the proposition however was former UCD Students Union Welfare Officer Eoghan MacDomhnaill, who opened by mocking his own Monahan accent and lack of debate experience. He spoke by speaking of the passing of his mother two years ago to a particularly aggressive form of cancer, which had no viable treatment plan. She was only given weeks from the date of her diagnoses to live. MacDomhnaill spoke of how she set herself to work setting her affairs in order in those weeks, said her goodbyes and generally prepared herself for what was to come. She however survived a number of weeks past what the doctors said she would, however this did result in her losing control of her body to the cancer in this time. MacDomhnaill said ‘death never phased her, but she cried because of what the desisdes did to her’. As the cancer ran its course she would lose control of her motor functions, lose the ability to perform simple tasks and most tragically, lose her memories.
MacDomhnaill told the audience that he had never considered his position on euthanasia before his mother’s illness, and he was unsure what choice she would’ve made given the choice. He did however say she and many others should have at least had the choice, and this motion was about empowering the powerless’.
Jason Conroy the Auditor of the Newman Society was the first speaker for the opposition and similar to MacDomhnaill spoke of his person experience with the death of a relative. Speaking about his grandfather who was diagnosed with cancer, he said that the fact that the doctors that who were treating him had such faith in him pulling through had a huge impact in his own belief that he could beat this. Conroy argued that if euthanasia was legalised then doctors would in many cases have an argument for not continuing this treatment, and this would affect the outlook of patients on their own illness. He spoke of that fact that ‘no matter how ill you are your life still has meaning’, and that legalisation would detract from this.
Conroy further spoke of the importance of giving people that chance to say goodbye to their loved ones, and went on to claim that this debate was really about whether or not we as a society ‘endorsed suicide’. Claimed the real issue at the heart of this debate was ‘the lack of meaning many people have in their lives’. Finally he presented the audience with a hypothetical question, if someone who was suffering from chronic depression sought to be euthanized on the basis of unbearable suffering, should we let them? He said that instinctively many of the audience would say no, and that this was why we should aim to ‘kill the pain not the patient’.
Tom Curran the husband of Marie Flemming who brought Supreme Court action in 2013 seeking the right to be euthanized and director of Exit International was the second proposition speaker and first thanked LawSoc for the opportunity to speak. He first off spoke against the motion as a whole saying that euthanasia ‘was someone else making the choice to end one’s life’. He stated that he was instead advocating for assisted suicide whereby the person who wished to die gave their consent to the end their life, but was unable to end their life themselves. Curran said that a common argument that he encountered was that legalisation was tantamount to playing god. He responded to this by saying that medical science was already playing god by extending our lives as it has over the last several decades. He went on to say that he saw this as a civil rights issue and a question of bodily autonomy. He said that unlike how opposition had painted the issue ‘one of the most difficult things anyone can be asked is to help someone they love to die’. His main argument was why must we allow those who are suffering to contitune doing so.
He said that we accept that those who take the lives of others are acting rationally, but we do not seem to accept that those that wish to take their own lives may be acting rationally. He said that we need to move on from that idea, and that those who are suffering should be granted the choice.
Dr. Kevin Yuill Lecturer at Uni of Sunderland was the next speaker for the opposition and immediately questioned do we as a society seek to provide death as a medical option to patients. He summed up this debate by saying that ‘this is really about suicide’. He clarified by saying that while there can be noble and perhaps even good suicides, the problem here is assisted suicide. He wonders can we truly ask someone else to take on the task of killing another person, even if it is with their consent?
Yuill went on to wonder why we chose to help some people who had suicidal intentions but not others? He spoke of a key test used in several constituencies to get assisted suicide was ‘unbearable suffering’, but so highlighted cases where this had been in his mind misused. These cases included cases where those with disabilities had been euthanized as they viewed themselves as suffering unbearably, or where those with mental illnesses successfully passed the test. He expressed his concern that legalisation could mean that we as a society begin to view this as a valid way to treat those who are ill or elderly. Finally he returned to his original point on the treatment of the mentally ill, saying that many would seek to grant the right to be euthinised to those who are physically suffering only, but that this would be morally unjustifiable as you can’t just restrict rights to certain people.
Aodhán Peelo a former LawSoc Auditor was the final speaker for proposition and he spoke of the danger of letting our laws reflect our morality. He spoke of how dispassionate the justice system could be at the best of times, and that those who would be forced through the process of seeking permission to end their lives would see it at its worst.
Peelo agreed with the opposition in saying that life is valuable, but that this does not mean that extending at all costs is a good thing. If this was the case he argued, then why did we let people refuse medical treatments at all? Responding to a point from opposition he said that we do not necessarily require a doctor to assist in the act of suicide, and reiterate previous points about this not being a medical debate, but one on civil rights.
Finally when asked where the line should be drawn he bluntly stated he was unsure, though continued to say that where it was currently was not appropriate, and that society should move it until there as a consus.
The final speaker for the opposition Paddy Flynn a LawSoc member, who attempted to sum up the argument for the opposition. He questioned what constituted suffering and how we would determine who would draw that line? Flynn further raised questions over cases where power of attorney had been signed over who had the final say in the procedure. Largely Flynn questioned who the final choice should lie with and why.
The house voted in favour of the motion in a poll of the audience. LawSoc will be hosting a joint debate of the motion This House Regrets the portrayal and casting of LGBTQ+ characters in contemporary media alongside the LGBTQ+ Soc next Tuesday at 6:30pm in the FitzGerald Chamber.
By Aaron Bowman – CoEditor