By Hilary White

CORK, Ireland April 17, 2009 ( – When a British professor of medical ethics was slated to speak at Cork University Hospital (CUH) in Ireland advocating legalising euthanasia, including “involuntary euthanasia,” he did not expect to be met with an angry group of Irish patriots determined to see him off in the name of their nation’s constitution.

Professor Len Doyal, emeritus professor of medical ethics at Queen Mary, University of London, is a euthanasia advocate and has said that “involuntary euthanasia” should be permitted. He has advocated changing British law to allow doctors in some cases to end patients’ lives “swiftly, humanely and without guilt,” even if they have not given consent. However, Irish law currently defines the taking of another person’s life without their consent as “murder,” as do most, if not all, other jurisdictions in the world.

Doyal was scheduled to speak at the hospital at the invitation of the CUH Ethics Forum, but the lecture was pre-empted when angry protesters filled the room and charged him with attempting to introduce Nazi-style eugenics and to undermine Irish law and constitutional protections. The protest occurred only after numerous complaints to the hospital were ignored.

The lecture hall was filled with protesters who shouted down Doyal until the lecture was called off. A number of protesters, including priests and students from the pro-life action group Youth Defense, accused Doyal of advocating death for helpless ill, elderly and disabled people.

One man, Kieran O’Riordan, approached Doyal on the platform and said that he is currently caring for his wife who has terminal cancer. He held a copy of the constitution of the Republic of Ireland, the preamble of which protects the right to life, and denounced Doyal’s speech as a criminal offense and against the law.

Fr. Paul Kramer, a Catholic priest and author, confronted Doyal, shouting, “Nazi criminal! Get out of our country! Nazi eugenicist! Get out of our country!” He turned to the crowd of about 200 and announced, “We say no to Nazi eugenics.” The crowd chanted “Out! Out! Out!”

At that point, Professor Doyal was escorted from the room and the lecture was cancelled. 

Irish media and local politicians characterised the incident as a violation of freedom of speech by “religious zealots.” Cork city councillor Terry Shannon said, “The day we cannot have free speech in this city is a day we should never have. I condemn the actions of those who wish to stifle debate.”

But John O’Callaghan, a long-time pro-life activist in Ireland who helped organise the protest, told that what Professor Doyal was doing was illegal. The matter was one for the police, he said, and he had challenged local gardai (police)  to remove Professor Doyal from the country as an political agitator attempting to overthrow the Irish constitution. Freedom of speech, he said, does not require allowing a speaker to call for the institution of legalised murder.

In an interview with LSN, O’Callaghan said that changes are being made in Ireland that are reducing the meaning of citizenship to purely economic terms. This, he indicated, is what has led to the current discussion about “involuntary euthanasia,” which is seen by some euthanasia activists as an acceptable way to save medical costs. Under this new anti-life utilitarian and mechanistic philosophy, he said, “Ireland is no longer a country with citizens; it is an economy with economic units and in that way of thinking, if an economic unit becomes un-economic, naturally you get rid of it, you shut it down.”

He related that he told Doyal directly, “We’re a very hospitable race, and when people come to our homes we try to treat them well. But what you propose is murder and you’re here to break the law of our land.” He said, “If you had any honour left, you would go up there to the microphone and inform these people that you’ve broken the law and say you’re going to leave this hospital and the shores of Ireland and never come back.”
O’Callaghan said he was accused of opposing freedom of speech by a member of the CUH Ethics Forum. He recounted the incident to LSN: “I said, ‘If free speech is paramount, if I were to resurrect Jack the Ripper and bring him here to give a lecture, would you allow him to talk about how he enjoyed killing his victims?’ Well, he shut up and didn’t say any more.”

This is not the first pro-euthanasia advocate the CUH Ethics Forum has brought to speak. O’Callaghan said it is clear that there is an agenda at work to “soften the ground” to bring a debate on the subject and ultimately to allow euthanasia as has been done in other European Union countries. O’Callaghan had informed the Health Services Executive, the hospital, the Ethics Forum and the police that the lecture would be “shut down.”

While some have accused the protesters of “stifling debate,” pro-life advocates defended the action of the protesters, saying that there had been no debate intended by the Ethics Forum, who had scheduled no other speakers to take the position against euthanasia.

Pat Buckley, the European affairs officer for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, told LSN that there had been no intention of starting a debate. “Cork University Hospital is a teaching hospital and the meeting was organised by their ethics committee and you have to wonder what point they were trying to make.”

While the Ethics Forum has denied they were advocating for legalised euthanasia, Buckley remained sceptical. It inevitably raises the question, he said, for a speaker to give a lecture without any response. “There was going to be no response to this lecture. The only response allowed was in the questions. No opposing view was offered. That’s not a debate.”

“In a country like Ireland, that has a pro-life constitution, it is appalling that a hospital ethics committee would even consider having a lecture on this issue.”