Bill raises questions about life and death

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Assisted suicide has recently grabbed headlines with Holyrood’s Justice Committee recently reporting on the Bill’s practical and legal issues.

The proposed legislation, which would allow those with terminal or life-shortening illnesses to obtain help in ending their suffering, is being considered by the Health Committee this week.

Under the proposals, requests to GPs for an assisted suicide must be backed up by a second professional opinion, and followed by a 14-day “cooling off” period.

A second request must then be made, after which a doctor supplies a licensed facilitator with a prescription to enable assisted suicide to take place.

Campaigners who back plans to legalise assisted suicide released a video last week aimed at tackling “misconceptions and misunderstandings” around the proposed legislation.

The video, produced by the My Life, My Death, My Choice campaign, outlined who will be eligible for assisted suicide, the safeguards which would be put in place and the processes involved.

Government statistics from consultation on the matter reveal that from 886 submissions, 73% of respondents expressed support, 24% in opposition and 3% either neutral or making no comment.

But support within organisational submissions is lower at 16.5%, with 49% opposing and 34.5% stating neutrality or making no comment.

Those opposed to legalising assisted suicide say it would put pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives .

The proposed legislation has united Church groups, talking about their stance on the subject the Church of Scotland said: “The Church is closely involved in the pastoral care of people facing death and their families and its approach to end of life issues is rooted in that care and in the care and compassion of Jesus.

“In the context of the currently proposed legislation, we have expressed concern about the possibilities of abuse (no legislation can be 100% safe), and the fact that once society has crossed the line which prohibits the taking of another human life, there will be no going back.”

Rev. Dr Donald MacDonald, a former Free Church of Scotland Moderator, who will be giving evidence to the Health Committee in person on January 27th, said: “This Bill is wrong in principle and is poorly drafted, so we urge our MSPs to reject it. The proposed safeguards give no confidence that vulnerable lives would be protected.

“We are concerned that with an ageing population in a time of economic stringency pressure might be felt by vulnerable groups to consider assisted suicide as their duty.

“This would open the door to encouraging thoughts of suicide, as well as softening up society to accept suicide as an acceptable way out of problem situations.

“Suicide is not to be encouraged, far less assisted. We strongly support the extension of good long-term and palliative care to all who require it.”

The Catholic Church also highlighted its opposition, stating: “The Catholic Church opposes the current bill and is part of the ‘Care Not Killing’ group campaigning against it. We all want to limit suffering, but believe there is an important difference, between limiting suffering and ending life.

“This legislation would be a great risk to the vulnerable and would lead to inevitable subtle pressures on those whose illness or condition met the criteria to end their lives.

“In Belgium and the Netherlands, there has been an incremental extension of euthanasia legislation, once the principle is established, this would inevitably happen in Scotland if the legislation passed.”

In considering the matter the Health Committee is expected to take evidence from a range of witnesses until the end of February. It plans to publish a report in the spring before the Bill is debated by the whole Parliament.