Mairin de Burca is a founder member of Right to Die Ireland. She is also a veteran of many feminist and other political campaigns in Ireland. In 1974 she won the equal right of women to sit on juries in Irish courts. In this article Mairin explains why she supports the right to die.
I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in the right of every individual to end their lives when and how they wished. I could not see how it was anyone else’s business to say to a person that they had no right over their own existence.
Life is not something we choose. It was given to us by our parents for various reasons of their own. If it becomes unbearable and there is no way to improve it, then ending it makes sense for some people. If there is a right to life, there must be a right to die at a time of one’s choosing.
I respect the view of people with religious views to refuse to countenance such a step for themselves, but I positively reject their assuming that right over those of us without any religious belief.
Now this in no way precludes the fact that, if I knew of anyone thinking of ending their life without due consideration to the alternatives and due consideration to the distress of those they might leave behind, I would do my utmost to dissuade them and do anything I could to relieve the cause of their unhappiness.
Life is sweet for most of us and even for those who believe that theirs is not, it is possible to open up possibilities that would make going on a viable option.
Given that I believe that everyone has the right to end their own life (and no one else’s), how much stronger is that belief in the face of unbearable physical suffering? I cannot, in effect, say to someone facing a painful end – ‘tough, that’s life’.
I know all the arguments about palliative care – and can only stand in awe of those dedicated to providing it – but there are diseases and conditions, the end result of which don’t bear thinking about, and it is a deliberate misrepresentation to claim that even the best possible care can relieve them.
Religious people can offer this suffering up to whatever deity they believe in, but what about those who have no deity or belief? I believe passionately that we have every right to take matters into our own hands and that, if we need assistance, for whatever reason, that assistance should be provided.
Ideally it would be provided by our medical team, but, until the day dawns where that will be possible, it should be permissible for a loved one to do it for us without fear of penal sanctions.
It is a cliché to say that we give our pets a pain free death whenever it is possible, but allow humans to suffer on to the end. But clichés are often just truths which are endlessly repeated.
Last year a little dog I had had since he was a pup got terminally ill. He was old, and had never been subjected to a lot of medical procedures, and I decided that I wasn’t going to put him through any at that time of his life.
I was with him when the vet put him down, and it was the most peaceful death I could have wished for my dear friend. Grieving for him was so much relieved by the knowledge that I saved him from pain and suffering. Isn’t it ironic that the law says that I cannot give that final benefit and consolation to a human loved one?
This is not the place to go into things like all the safeguards that must be in place before the right to assisted suicide becomes law, but they must be a rigorous as human ingenuity can make them.
Luckily many jurisdictions now have such legislation, and can be studied so that they could be adapted to Irish conditions. This is for the lawyers, medical personnel and legislators to thrash out.
But thrash it out they must, because people will not wait forever for what we in Right to Die Ireland believe is a basic right.