Scotland Assisted Suicide Legalization Bill Narrowed, Still Targets Disabled

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 27, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scotland Assisted Suicide Legalization Bill Narrowed, Still Targets Disabled

by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 27
, 2009

Edinburgh, Scotland ( — Scotland MSP Margo MacDonald has narrowed her bill that would legalize assisted suicide, but the measure still targets the disabled. MacDonald is hoping to get a private member’s bill introduced at Holyrood this year, and she has narrowed the scope of the bill to attract more support.

The Scottish Parliament, the devolved national, unicameral legislature of Scotland, has not been receptive to the legislation thus far.

MacDonald originally had only four members of the parliament behind her effort.

To get more MSPs on her side, she modified her bill to only allow assisted suicides for three specific categories of people. That includes those with a progressive, degenerative conditions; people who have suffered a trauma such as accidents or injuries and that left them dependent on others for care; and people with terminal illness.

MacDonald, who has Parkinson’s disease, told The Herald newspaper she thinks the revised bill is going to earn her more support.

"I’m inclined to think we are absolutely on the right track in the Scottish Parliament in testing this now and in trying to frame a bill," she said.

But American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith says pro-life groups and disability rights advocates in the U.K. will still oppose the measure.

"The narrowed bill would explicitly legalize assisted suicide for people with disabilities, once again clearly demonstrating that the ‘death with dignity’ is not about a ‘choice’ for the dying," Smith said. "No wonder the disability rights community is up in arms about assisted suicide."

Smith is also critical of the Scottish press and pointed out that the news story The Herald ran about the revised bill was one-sided and only included quotes from MacDonald and a euthanasia advocate.

"The story contains not one quote from anyone opposed to assisted suicide. Opponents are merely mentioned as having somehow skewed [an internal poll] that the bill’s author took," he said. "Typical."

MacDonald’s bill appears to be modeled after American laws in Oregon and Washington state that require a waiting period before a terminally ill patient can request a physician to provide a lethal drug prescription.

Pro-life advocates oppose assisted suicide and say that doctors should not be in the business of killing patients. They say patients should be given more help to cope with pain and depression and better care.

Meanwhile, pro-life advocates in England are also concerned about a bill there that could allow suicide tourism.

The bill could make it more clear when people would be charged under the law for aiding in an assisted suicide, as in the case of Debbie Purdy. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has already indicated he is opposed to the legislation.

John Smeaton, the director of the pro-life group Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, explained some of the concerns.

"We are concerned that radical, so-called right-to-die MPs or peers – urged on by media coverage for assertions that some elderly people have a so-called duty to die – might seek to use the bill to weaken the legal protection of the right to life," Smeaton says.

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