Scotland to consider legalizing physician-assisted suicide

assisted suicide, Dutch, physician-assisted suicide

UPDATE, 7/6/21: A Scottish physician group, Our Duty of Care, has sent a letter to signed a letter to Health Secretary Humza Yousaf asking for the law to remain unchanged. Scottish Legal News quotes the letter, signed by 200 medical professionals, as saying:

… The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised. The prohibition of killing is present in almost all civilised societies due the immeasurable worth of every human life.

Everyone has a right to life under Article 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998 such that no one should be deprived of that life intentionally. Some patients may never consider assisted suicide unless it was suggested to them. The cruel irony of this path is that legislation introduced with the good intention of enhancing patient choice will diminish the choices of the most vulnerable.

As health care professionals, we have a legal duty of care for the safety and wellbeing of our patients. We the undersigned will not take patients’ lives – even if they ask us to. But for the sake of us all, we ask that the law remains unchanged.

Signers include a former president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow as well as palliative care experts.

7/2/21: Scottish lawmakers will once again address the question of legalizing physician-assisted suicide this fall following MSP Liam McArthur’s introduction of a bill to legalize the procedure. Scotland last considered legalizing assisted suicide in 2014 and again in 2015, both times opting to keep the current law in place, which allows for the criminal prosecution of anyone who assists another person to commit suicide.

According to the BBC, McArthur said “The current blanket ban on (assisted suicide) is unjust and causes needless suffering for so many dying people and their families across Scotland. [There are] many more examples of those who have been put through, I would argue, needlessly painful, protracted, agonizing deaths – and their families and friends are put through the experience with them. I think that lived experience is having an effect, not just in terms of public support but political support.”

McArthur’s words certainly demand a response, but the appropriate response to needless pain and agony is adequate pain control through improved palliative care options, not the killing of the people in pain.

Assisted suicide advocates in Scotland have been increasingly ratcheting up the pressure to legalize assisted suicide in recent months, as Live Action News noted in April. At that time, activist groups like Dignity in Dying Scotland were putting the heat on legislators ahead of the May 6 parliamentary elections.

The group’s April 6 campaign launch event featured Great British Bake-Off judge Prue Leith as a speaker, who lost her brother David to bone cancer in 2012. David received insufficient pain control in the months leading up to his death. But Leith has used her celebrity to advocate not for improved palliative care options — which could have, by her own admission, brought her brother adequate pain control — but for assisted suicide.

READ: Irish activists push to legalize assisted suicide but only 14% of doctors support it

Responding to concerns that the bill lacks safeguards to prevent coercion and abuse of vulnerable populations, Dignity in Dying Scotland director Ally Thomson insisted that “[t]here is rigorous research and robust evidence from across the world to show that legalizing assisted dying is the compassionate and safe thing to do. I am delighted to welcome the introduction of the Bill and urge MSPs to listen to the people of Scotland, examine the evidence before them, and back this Bill.”

In reality, legislators, disability advocates, and Scottish citizens have every right to be concerned about legalizing assisted suicide.

As Wesley J. Smith presciently noted back in 2011, “the assisted-suicide movement has eroded society’s commitment to suicide prevention. It has created an atmosphere where many people now see ‘dead’ as better than ‘dying’ and suicide as a valid remedy for the debilitations caused by serious illness, disability, or being frail, elderly, ‘tired of life,’ or chronically — or even, as I have seen, mentally — ill.” The experience of one European country after another has borne out the truth in Smith’s warning that “once a society embraces doctor-prescribed death as an acceptable answer to human suffering or as some kind of fundamental liberty right, there are no brakes.” Just as Smith anticipated, only five years after legalizing Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD) in 2016, Canada has expanded the list of qualifying conditions to include mentally ill individuals without a terminal diagnosis.

While support for the legalization of assisted suicide appears to be high in Scotland at this time based on public polling results, not everyone is on board. Care for Scotland parliamentary officer Michael Veitch observed, “This law will not just affect the small number of individuals who might choose to access assisted suicide. It will affect every person living with a terminal illness, fundamentally alter the doctor-patient relationship, devalue disabled people’s lives, and undermine wide efforts to prevent suicide. There are far better and more ethical ways to help patients at the end of life than allowing lethal drugs to be prescribed on the NHS.”

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