Irish Medical Council strips directive banning ‘deliberate killing’ of patients

Daniel Payne

   By Daniel Payne for CNA

null / nito/Shutterstock

CNA Staff, Jan 11, 2024 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

The Irish Medical Council has stripped a prohibition against the “deliberate killing” of patients from the most recent update to its national medical guidelines.

The Medical Council on its website says it “regulates medical doctors in Ireland” by way of “promoting and better ensuring high standards of professional conduct, education, training, and competence among doctors.”

Part of its regulation includes its “Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners,” which it reissues with updates periodically. The council says the guide “sets out the principles of professional practice that all doctors registered with the council are expected to follow.”

In the seventh edition of that document, published in 2009, the council — in the guide’s section on end-of-life care — explicitly directed that doctors may “not participate in the deliberate killing of a patient by active means.”

The eighth edition, published in 2016, similarly directed that doctors “must not take part in the deliberate killing of a patient.” The ninth edition, dated this year, however, has removed that prohibition on the deliberate killing of patients.

The Medical Council did not respond to a request for comment on the change. In a press release in November announcing the new guide, the council said the revised guidelines were developed by an “ethics committee” chaired by Medical Council President Suzanne Crowe. Crowe also did not respond to a query about the changes.

In its ninth edition, similar to previous revisions, the council says that doctors “play an important role in supporting patients, families, and the community to deal with the reality of death.”

“You should be sensitive in discussing end-of-life options, including palliative care, and make sure that patients and their families have a clear understanding of what can and cannot be achieved,” the guide says.

The revisions come as many countries and governments around the world are considering or have implemented assisted suicide and euthanasia laws for medical patients.

In Ireland several years ago, lawmakers considered what was dubbed the “Dying with Dignity Bill,” a piece of legislation that if passed would have “[made] provision for assistance in achieving a dignified and peaceful end of life to qualifying persons.”

That bill ultimately stalled in Parliament. At the time, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said the bill was “fundamentally flawed” and “at odds with the common good.”

“We believe that every life has an inherent value, which should be endorsed by society,” the bishops said. “This bill, if passed, would be a sad reflection of the unwillingness of society to accompany people with terminal illness. It would reflect a failure of compassion.”

The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland — the largest doctor’s group in the country — in 2023 likewise came out against assisted suicide there, with a group representative saying the practice was “contrary to best medical practice” and that “the potential harms outweigh the arguments that can be made in favor” of it.

Several other European countries have already legalized euthanasia, including Spain, Luxembourg, and Belgium.

A British poll last year found a majority of Britons are in favor of making assisted suicide legal. The U.K. Parliament throughout 2023 held an “inquiry into assisted dying/assisted suicide” in which lawmakers explored the controversial practice.

A handful of U.S. states allow assisted suicide, meanwhile, with several more considering legislation on the matter.

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