Family in suicide case criticise hospital and church group

Irish Times/June 13, 2007
By Alison Healy

A representative of the International Church of Christ group failed to respond to a request from the Dublin city coroner to appear at his court yesterday in connection with a case involving death by suicide.

Niall MacMahon (40), who was involved with the group, died instantly when he stepped in front of a train at Harmonstown Dart Station on March 2nd, 2006.

He had been released from St James's Hospital days earlier after being treated for depression. Mr MacMahon's family yesterday criticised the lack of information given to them by the hospital about his condition.

They called for a change in the way hospitals gave information to relatives.

Dublin City Coroner's Court heard that Mr MacMahon, with an address in Watling Street, Dublin, had attempted suicide in the Phoenix Park several weeks earlier. He was found by a park ranger and was voluntarily admitted to St James's Hospital.

His father, Jim, said they did not know about the suicide attempt. "And as far as I was concerned, he had some kind of a turn. We assumed he was just being treated for that," he said.

Niall's brother Declan told the inquest: "Believe it or not, we only found out about that [attempted suicide] after his death." He said Niall did not want to talk about what had happened in the Phoenix Park and the family thought he was just being treated for mild depression.

After the death, he said the hospital told them that its hands were tied as it was not allowed to give such information for reasons of patient confidentiality.

The Medical Council's ethical guidelines state that a doctor must not disclose information to any person without the consent of the patient.

He said the family felt "annoyed and disappointed" that they were not kept informed. "They could have said 'you'd really need to keep your eyes on Niall' but they never did."

Niall MacMahon left a suicide note, containing several biblical and religious references.

His brother Declan said he felt the International Church of Christ group had undue control over Niall and his answers to questions were always guided by the church. "I feel had he not been in the church, he would not be dead today," he said.

The coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, said he had contacted the International Church of Christ and invited a representative to attend the inquest but no one had appeared.

Declan MacMahon read out his brother's suicide note which referred to a successful brain operation he had to cure his lifelong epilepsy.

Niall wrote that he had made a "hasty decision" to have the operation, and this had "put money before my own brain. This was a blasphemous thing to do."

There was "no peace for the wicked," he wrote and "life has been a living hell". He said he had not regained any peace or joy since the operation.

The jury found that Niall MacMahon had taken his own life and it added a recommendation "that families should be informed if a person is a danger to themselves".

Dr Farrell said he would write to St James's Hospital and the Medical Council setting out the family's request and including the jury's recommendation.

He would also write to the International Church of Christ, informing it of the issues that had arisen during the inquest.

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