MDMD Founder Dr Michael Irwin Discusses His End-of-life Plans

The Sunday Times today published an article on the end of life plans of MDMD founder Dr Michael Irwin. (The organisation he founded was the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide, SOARS, which democratically chose to change its name to My Death, My Decision in 2016.)

In the article Dr Irwin explains how, when he feels he is ready, he wants his doctors to be able to give him increasing levels of sedation, in order to ease any pain and suffering. He wishes to enter “continuous deep sedation” which, coupled with his refusal of artificial feeding and hydration, will result in his hastened death. He believes this approach is legal in this country under the doctrine of “double effect”. MDMD discuss this approach in more detail here. The story has been echoed in other papers including the Daily Mail which has free online access.

A survey conducted for the Sunday Times by YouGov found that 67%, of the 1,650 people asked, “think doctors should be allowed to give terminally ill patients enough pain medication to hasten their death”. Unfortunately it is not clear from the article how dependent this finding is on “terminal illness”, nor what the respondents understood by this phrase. (For example, is “terminal illness” taken to include dementia, now the leading cause of death in England and Wales?) The article does say that the percentage rose to 74% when considering responses of the over 65 age group – those more likely to have had first hand experience of the dying process of their parent’s generation, and hence be aware of how unpleasant and prolonged the dying process can be.

Dr Irwin is consulting with the GMC on precisely what doctors may be able to do within the law, and calls for an open discussion of the issue. He says “it is necessary to be honest and generally to regard it as ‘slow euthanasia’ carried out under the doctrine of ‘double effect'”. The GMC has responded saying that doctors would need to seek advice from clinical and legal experts. Surely both doctors and patients need clarification of this issue, given that almost 75% of people close to the age where they may face this situation think this should be an available option. MDMD will watch this story with interest as it unfolds.