Medical council to look at ethics rules after 'cult' suicide

Sunday Tribune, Ireland/June 17, 2007
By Ali Bracken

The Irish Medical Council has said it would welcome submissions from the family of a man who committed suicide and who have called for an urgent overhaul of the Council's ethical guidelines to prevent further loss of life.

Niall MacMahon (40), from Watling Street, Dublin 8, was killed instantly after he stepped in front of the DublinBelfast train at Harmonstown Dart station on the evening of 2 March, 2006. He had suffered from depression. His brother and father told the Sunday Tribune that his involvement with the cult-like International Church of Christ group, which they damned had "undue influence" over him, was a "contributory factor" in his death.

MacMahon had been released from St James' Hospital days before his death following treatment for depression. He had attempted suicide a few weeks previously in the Phoenix Park but his family were not informed about this.

Following his death, the hospital told the family that its hands were tied as it was not allowed to give out such information for reasons of patient confidentiality, an inquest into his death heard last Tuesday.

The Medical Council's ethical guidelines state that a doctor must not disclose information to any person without the consent of the patient. "If we'd known, it would have given us the opportunity to talk him through his problems, " said Niall's brother Declan MacMahon. "We're not saying it would have changed what happened. The only reason we're speaking out about this is in the hope that families may be able to avoid a tragedy like this. We can't change what happened but we want to potentially change what happens to other families." MacMahon described his brother as "a great brother" and said he had "led an exemplary life."

Dr Deirdre Madden, chairperson of the ethics committee of the Medical Council, said when contacted: "The ethical guidelines are about to be revised.

The council would take very seriously the concerns of a bereaved family. If there's a call by a family, we would consider it. When a family makes a public statement, the council will pay attention to it." A public consultation process in relation to the forming of the council's new ethical guidelines will begin in the next few weeks.

Mike Garde of Dialogue Ireland, which seeks to promote people's freedom to make informed choices about religions, said he was aware of seven individuals who had experienced "psychiatric destabilisation" following involvement with the International Church of Christ. One young man attempted suicide by drinking Domestos after he was ostracised by the group, he said. "This church had a very heavy-duty command structure and in many ways it was cult-like in its activities."

The group collapsed seven years ago due to the disintegration of its leadership, leaving 100 or so of its members in Ireland lost, Garde continued. "There was a loss of meaning for people who had been in the group. They had been taught that if they left this group, they were going to hell." The group kept its members "controlled" and "believed they were the only Christian church, " he added. All members were also required to hand over 10% of their salaries each year, he said.

At his inquest, MacMahon's suicide note was read out: it referred to a successful brain operation he had to cure his lifelong epilepsy. He 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."

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