First, in the interests of full disclosure, I am a Christian and that inevitably influences my views on the following. There is a comments section below where you can post any measured response you may have on this issue…
Margo MacDonald MSP saw her private member’s Bill (the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill) defeated at its first reading in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday by a convincing 84 votes to 16.
Much has been said on the topic on both sides and here is my two pennies worth…
I’m not an MSP and I hope never to be one, but had I been in the Chamber on Wednesday I am fairly certain that I would have voted against the Bill. Why? The laws we adopt as a nation say something about our views and our values and fundamentally, I think that legalising euthanasia would say that we are less concerned about the sanctity of human life. I’ve couched that in spiritual terminology, but I don’t think you need to be religious to reach the view that there is an inherent value to a human life and that it ought not to be disposed of lightly – even if an individual human doesn’t see the value to life any more.
I recognise that there is an inherent unfairness in that people without disabilities are free to kill themselves without breaking the law, but that someone with a disability may be unable to do so. However, there are lots of unfairnesses which arise from being physically disabled and the inability to get someone to help you to kill yourself without fear of criminal prosecution is not top of my list to deal with.
Despite the safeguards in the Bill, I am very concerned that a right to die would become for some people an expectation. I also share the concerns of groups like Not Dead Yet about a legislative scheme that focuses on ending an “intolerable” life rather than looking to address “a lack of proper practical, emotional and medical support needed to live dignified lives”.
As they point out, the response to a non-disabled person approaching their doctor stating that they find life intolerable and want to kill themselves would be to offer support, counselling, possibly medication – all aimed at preventing the person from taking their own life. Inherent in that response is an understanding that it’s not okay for people to be in that state of mind. The NHS spends a good deal of time and money on suicide prevention. Why should it be any different for disabled people? It is significant that the BMA remains firmly opposed to physician assisted suicide.
I wonder whether there is also something about the way Scots law treats this area which makes it more difficult? In England and Wales, there is a specific offence of assisting a suicide – and any equivalent legislation in Westminster would decriminalise that offence (or alter the penalties). In Scotland we face the rather more grisly prospect of dis-applying the law of murder or culpable homicide in prescribed circumstances, but only in relation to disabled people. I must confess that my response is at least as much an emotional one as it is intellectual, and reading the dry mechanics of the requests made to a medic that were to be required under the Bill made me shudder.
Recent polling suggests that it is a minority view that I hold, but hopefully this goes some way to explaining why I hold it.
I would also recommend that you read this article:
“We should help the sick to live, not hasten their deaths” The Herald 9 July 2009
And, in the interests of balance, the opposing viewpoint:
“Margo’s Bill goes gently into that good night” Lallands Peat Worrier 2 December 2010
As The Herald’s leader today suggested, it is good to debate issues of importance like this and as Margo MacDonald has pledged to reintroduce the Bill (or similar) if re-elected, then Holyrood may get another chance to do so before too long.