Scotland Again Rejects Bid to Legalize Assisted Suicide

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 19, 2010   |   4:45PM   |   Edinburgh, Scotland

The Scottish Parliament, the devolved national, unicameral legislature of Scotland, has rejected legislation for a second time that would legalize the practice of assisted suicide. In December 2008, the parliament rejected a first attempt.

The Press and Journal newspaper indicates a Holyrood committee defeated an effort to make Scotland the first part of the United Kingdom to allow assisted suicide as the End of Life Assistance Bill committee said it was “not persuaded that the case had been made” for the legislation.

MSP Margo MacDonald is the sponsor of the measure, which had 50 people on both sides of the debate submit oral or written testimony to members of the panel. The committee ultimately resolved to tell the full parliament that the bill should not be adopted.

The newspaper indicates the legislation would make it so anyone over 16 could request an assisted suicide from a physician and the person must be diagnosed as terminally ill or permanently physically incapacitated and believe their life is no longer worth living. But the final committee report said the definition of terminal illness in the bill presented “real problems” that were impossible to reconcile. They rejected the argument that a person’s “autonomy” allowed them to kill themselves with a doctor’s help.

Critics of the legislation worried the bill would undermine the rights of the disabled and that it lacked a strong conscience clause for physicians who don’t want to be pressured into participating in assisted suicides.

American bioethics attorney Wesley J. Smith commented on the results.

“Last November, I was invited to Scotland to speak against assisted suicide and debate it at  Holyrood (the parliament), the University of Glasgow, and at a large public forum in Edinburgh,” he recalled. “The idea was for me to come to Scotland and hopefully soften the ground as the first step in a concerted campaign to defeat SMP Margaret McDonald’s anticipated attempt to legalize assisted suicide.”

“Well, my friends in Scotland seem to have done a sterling job in turning back the bill.  An important committee has turned thumbs down to doctor prescribed death,” he said. “The bill still must be debated. But this is a big deal.  Preliminary congratulations to all those who I know worked so hard to obtain this terrific result.”

About the bill and assisted suicide itself, Smith said the emphasis should be on “suicide prevention, interventions to make life more bearable, love and inclusion to help the suicidal make it to a hoped-for new dawn.”

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 hospice care.