The niece of a 59-year-old Irish man who ended his life by assisted suicide in Switzerland has shared the family’s testimony with the Irish parliament’s Joint Committee on Assisted Dying, saying that, when their uncle ended his life, “There was no dignity for our family”.
Emer Maguire spoke as part of the Committee’s discussion on access to palliative care and social supports. Visibly upset, Ms Maguire detailed her family’s sadness on discovering that her uncle, Jay, had travelled to Switzerland to end his life via assisted suicide. The family only learned of his death five days after it occurred.
59-year-old Jay was met in Switzerland by Sean Davison, director of Exit International UK, a group that provides “practical DIY end of life choices” to people who want to end their lives by euthanasia or assisted suicide. Mr Davison, who has previously been convicted of murder, was present at Jay’s death on 26 September.
Family receives phone call to tell of death five days earlier
Ms Maguire and her family first suspected that something may have happened to her uncle when he failed to meet his sister for a drink and his nephew arrived at his house to discover it empty, in an unusually clean condition.
Aware that he had been struggling with his mental health, the family contacted the police and filed a missing person’s report. Whilst this was going on, Jay’s nephew, Ms Maguire’s cousin, continued to look for clues to find out what had happened to his uncle. When searching through Jay’s bins, his nephew discovered a torn piece of paper that contained details of a phone number. When he called the number, a man answered and, when asked if he knew Jay, he replied that Jay’s sister would receive a call later that day.
Ms Maguire recalls “About 30 minutes later, she received a call from Sean Davison to tell her that Jay had died [by assisted suicide] 5 days previously in Switzerland and that he was with him when he died and identified his body after his death”.
“He had been cremated on the morning of Sunday 1 October and his ashes would be sent to her house during the week”.
Physically healthy man ends life aided by convicted murderer
Whilst Ms Maguire acknowledged that Jay had been seeking mental health support and was taking anti-depressant medication, she reminded the committee that he was not terminally ill or elderly.
“Without exception, anyone I told about my Uncle’s death by Euthanasia [sic] assumed that he was either terminally ill or very elderly”. Their response tends to be that they can understand how it would be helpful if someone was suffering terribly and was nearing natural death. Jay was neither of these. Jay was in full physical health and 59 years of age. Yes he was suffering mentally but could one say that this was terminal?”, she asked.
After the family spoke to Mr Davison, the director of Exit International UK, they discovered that he had been found guilty of premeditated murder in South Africa in 2019 for helping three people to kill themselves. He was also charged with the attempted murder of his mother in 2010. Mr Davison, as part of his work with Exit International, was present at Jay’s death and identified the body.
“No dignity” for family left reeling from the news
Ms Maguire explained the torment that the family have faced in the aftermath of the news. She said “The shock and despair which descended on our family in the aftermath of this phone call can only be likened to living through a horror movie”.
Making reference to the language of pro-euthanasia groups who speak about access to euthanasia increasing dignity, Ms Maguire lamented that “There was no dignity for our family”. When Jay’s family discovered that he had been a member of Exit for 15 years, they thought that he had been “brainwashed” so that he “couldn’t see the world around him in a rational way”.
Lessons from Canada
British MPs and Peers were recently warned about the impact of Canada’s euthanasia law.
At a parliamentary event in November organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Dying Well, Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Canada, told parliamentarians how the Canadian euthanasia law had expanded to include people who were not terminally ill, and how the law in Canada will soon permit euthanasia on the basis of mental illness alone.
Schadenberg told those present that he considers “legalisation of euthanasia a form of abandonment” and, in most cases, euthanasia deaths are “deaths of despair”.
Euthanasia is often based on feeling depressed or hopeless
Contrary to the idea that euthanasia is a rational choice for those suffering and near death, he explained that “most people die by euthanasia because they are going through a difficult health condition, and they are feeling depressed, lonely or experiencing feelings of hopelessness and they believe that their life has no purpose”.
Statistics from Health Canada show that in 2022, 17.1% of people cited “isolation or loneliness” as a reason for wanting to die. In 35.3% of cases, patients believed that they were a “burden on family, friends or caregivers”.
In addition, he told those present about a number of shocking cases in Canada over the past few years including one in which a veteran had been offered euthanasia rather than a wheelchair lift; another in which a man was accepted onto the euthanasia program even though the reason he wanted to die was fear of homelessness; and a third in which a disabled women applied for euthanasia because it was easier to access than disability support.
Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said “Ms Maguire’s testimony of the death of her uncle Jay is heartbreaking and demonstrates the wide-ranging ramifications of deaths by assisted suicide. We want to live in a society where the vulnerable are protected by the law and can receive the health and social care that they need to live and die well”.