Scotland Parliament Expected to Debate Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide This Fall

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 31, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scotland Parliament Expected to Debate Bill to Legalize Assisted Suicide This Fall

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 31
, 2009

Edinburgh, Scotland ( — The parliament of Scotland is expected to debate a bill this fall that would legalize the practice of assisted suicide. MSP Margo MacDonald had originally secured enough support from colleagues to introduce the measure and now it has won cross-party backing.

The proposal would allow people with a progressive and irreversible illness, the terminally ill, or those who had an "intolerable" quality of life to kill themselves with the help of a doctor.

Private bills at Holyrood require at least 18 signatories before they can be presented and MacDonald’s bill has the support of 21 MSPs.

In comments to the London Guardian newspaper, MacDonald said that her bill would allow someone like Debbie Purdy, who won her suicide tourism case at the House of Lords, to kill herself in Scotland instead of having to travel to Switzerland.

She also said she is encouraged by a vote over the weekend by the Royal College of Nursing to change its position from opposing assisted suicide to having a neutral position.

"All the evidence that has come to light over the last few months has strengthened my belief I was right to raise the matter and join the debate, and I’m right to raise a bill and test public opinion," she said.

Despite the upcoming vote, Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish health minister, is opposed to the assisted suicide bill and worries that it will be abused to target the elderly and disabled.

The British Medical Association has joined pro-life groups and disability rights advocates in opposing the bill.

“The BMA would be very disappointed if we ended up with having legalized physician-assisted suicide in Scotland," Dr. George Fernie of the BMA said. “People when they have a debilitating illness that may end their life are extremely vulnerable, they’re at a fragile stage. And our worry is they’re going to contemplate ending their life when that really isn’t their wish.”

In April, the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics panned the bill, calling it "dangerous and unnecessary."

The panel believes the bill would turn disabled and terminally ill people into second class citizens.

The council said assisted dying was unnecessary because physical suffering can be adequately alleviated in all but the most rare cases.

Director of research Dr Callum MacKellar said: "When dying patients realize that they do not need to suffer, they often change their minds about euthanasia."

The council also said assisted suicide was "dangerous" because it would change views on death and disability and mean Scottish society accepted – for the first time – that some lives were no longer worth living.

"People who are difficult or costly to care for may begin to be seen as burdens to society or second-class citizens," Dr MacKellar added. "In addition, it would fundamentally change the role of doctors and other health care professionals, whose role has always been to cure and care for patients, not to kill them."

Under the bill, any doctor asked by a patient for drugs to kill himself would consult with a specialist beforehand and then must provide the patient’s records to a medical panel after the patient is dead.

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