By Dr. Peter Saunders
Monday is the last day to respond to Margo Macdonald’s consultation on assisted suicide. The MSP [member of the Scottish Parliament] is planning to bring another bill to the Scottish Parliament in an attempt to legalise assisted suicide just over a year after her last similar bill was overwhelmingly defeated by 85 votes to 16. Essentially this is a rerun of the same flawed and tired arguments.
Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has published a good overview of her latest proposal’s many failings but I suspect most will just be objecting to the bill in principle.
I have reproduced below the submission of the Care Not Killing Alliance, representing over 40 professional groups, faith groups and human rights groups. It says it all. Brief and to the point.
This bill like her last should be given short shrift by Scottish parliamentarians.
Care Not Killing Submission
We are opposed to the general aim of this proposed bill for the following reasons:
1. Just over a year ago, a very similar bill, the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, was comprehensively defeated in a free vote at the Scottish Parliament in December 2010, by a margin of 85 votes to 16. This should have settled the debate in Scotland for a generation.
2. The previous bill was heavily criticised by MSPs, medical practitioners, palliative care charities, religious groups and legal experts for being both unclear and unethical. Furthermore, 87% of all who made written submissions to the scrutinising committee were opposed to it. The committee also overwhelmingly recommended that it be rejected.
3. The new Bill is to be modelled on a system currently in place in the US state of Oregon where the annual number of assisted suicides has increased dramatically by over 450% since being legalised in 1997, where one in six of those dying are depressed, less than one in 20 receive psychiatric assessments and some patients have actually been denied medical care and offered assisted suicide as a cheaper alternative.
4. The terms in the proposal, especially with regard to those ‘terminal conditions’ to be included in its remit are vague, imprecise and ambiguous.
5. Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed.
6. Persistent requests for euthanasia are extremely rare if people are properly cared for so our key priority must be to ensure that good care addressing people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs is accessible to all.
7. The present law making assisted suicide and euthanasia illegal is clear and right and does not need changing.
8. Hard cases make bad law. Even in a free democratic society there are limits to human freedom and the law must not be changed to accommodate the wishes of a small number of desperate and determined people.
9. The pressure people will feel to end their lives if assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised will be greatly accentuated at this time of economic recession with families and health budgets under pressure. Elder abuse and neglect by families, carers and institutions is real and dangerous and this is why strong laws are necessary.
10. The number of British people travelling abroad to commit assisted suicide is very small (150 in ten years) compared to numbers in countries and US states that have legalised assisted suicide or euthanasia.
11. If assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised any ‘safeguards’ against abuse, such as limiting it to certain categories of people, are unlikely to work. Instead, once any so-called ‘right-to-die’ is established we will see incremental extension with pressure being applied to expand the categories of people who qualify for it.
12. The vast majority of UK doctors are opposed to legalising euthanasia along with the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Association for Palliative Medicine and the British Geriatric Society.
13. All major disability rights groups in Britain (including RADAR, SCOPE, UKDPC, NCIL and Not Dead Yet UK) oppose any change in the law believing it will lead to increased prejudice towards them and increased pressure on them to end their lives.
14. Changes to the law of this kind should not be driven by public opinion but by serious informed debate. Public opinion polls can be easily manipulated when high media profile (and often celebrity-driven) ‘hard cases’ are used to elicit emotional reflex responses without consideration of the strong arguments against legalisation.
This proposal is flawed in principle and Care Not Killing calls upon the Scottish Parliament to reject it at the earliest opportunity.
Editor’s note. Dr. Saunders is a former general surgeon and CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organization with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members. This appears on his blog at http://pjsaunders.blogspot.com/2012/04/last-day-to-respond-to-margo-macdonalds.html