A group of Irish doctors met with a GP in the Netherlands who takes a different approach to end of life care, performing euthanasia on his patients at their request. This raised the question if this option should be provided for people who desire it?
In April 2015, a group of young GP’s in training traveled to the Netherlands to learn about a different approach to end of life care. Most of the trainee GPs assumed this would involve a visit to a highly specialised clinic. Instead, they met a family doctor who sometimes shortened his patients’ lives at their request – he performed euthanasia.
Frans Bollen, a 69-year-old retired GP from Almere in Holland presented the trainees with an alternate reality where "unbearable suffering" could be stopped overnight. The group was overwhelmed. Divided. GP’s do this? Could I do that for my patient? Do we do anything like this already in Ireland? The debate travelled home with us. No consensus was reached. One of the group, Dr Luke Dillon needed to know more.
In Ireland, it is a crime that could result in 14 years in prison to assist anybody with suicide. And yet there are people in Ireland who are suffering greatly as a result of illness and would prefer to be able to die peacefully and with dignity.
Luke met with 51 year old Kate Tobin at her home in Wexford earlier this year to hear her story. Kate is a retired palliative care nurse. Kate is now suffering with progressive MS and suffers greatly every day as a result of her declining health. No longer able to even brush her teeth for herself, she has lost her independence and is in constant pain. Kate is also deeply religious but she believes in her right to die if her suffering becomes too great. However, she knows that in modern Ireland this will not be legally possible. She struggles on, supported by her carers and her loving dog Bruno.
Meanwhile, in Our Lady’s Hospice Harold’s Cross, a different approach to suffering is taken. Palliative Care is a relatively young specialty in medicine and its aim is to relieve pain and improving the quality of life for those who are reaching the end of life.
The hospice is perhaps a surprisingly positive place. One of the patients there, 86 year old Gabriel Peelo, speaks of how he has found a new lease of life since his admission to the hospice after having a bowel tumor removed in May 2017. Along with availing of palliative care, Gabriel has chosen to take a route that he sees as the least amount of suffering. He has turned down any possibility of chemotherapy or other cancer therapy. Rather than spend what he believes could be the last year of his life being unwell as a result of treatment, he has prioritised making it to his 60th wedding anniversary and enjoying the time that he has left.
Luke traveled back to Holland in July 2017. and met up with Frans Bollen. He meets the relatives of people who have undergone euthanasia and discovers that it was not an easy road for them, though they are glad that their loved one’s suffering is now over. Frans Bollen explains that from a medical point of view the criteria for ‘unbearable suffering’ must be met.
Through exploring the topic of euthanasia Luke discovers that it may not be as black and white as he had originally thought and leaves him with more questions than answers. Should euthanasia be provided for people who desire it? How can anybody decide what constitutes ‘unbearable suffering’ for another person? And should euthanasia be extended to people who suffer from mental health illnesses as it is in Holland? And what does allowing euthanasia say about a society and the people in it?
Narrated and produced by Luke Dillon and Nicoline Greer
Sound supervision by Mark McGrath.
First broadcast: Saturday, October 28th, RTÉ Radio 1 at 2pm
You will find material and supports for people who are grieving through Bereaved.ie
Anybody wishing to donate to Kate Tobin's book-reading fundraiser for the Dyslexia Association of Ireland and MS Ireland can do so via the Ulster Bank in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, account number 1060856; sort code 98-56-90.
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One, the home of Irish radio documentaries.