Assisted dying in the news both north and south of the border – last day for action in Scotland

Sunset @ Adyar:The issue of assisted dying is in the news on both sides of the border this week. Yesterday, Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill received its first reading in the House of Lords. This is a formality and the date for a full debate on the issue has not yet been set.

To mark the occasion, the Dignity in Dying campaign has released a very powerful video which highlights the choices we are free to make in life, but we can’t choose the manner of our death.

Dignity in Dying is asking people to email the three main party leaders to express their support for Lord Falconer’s Bill, a measure they say 80% of the public support.

In Scotland, there is an Assisted Suicide Bill going through Holyrood. It was initially introduced by Margo MacDonald, the iconic independent MSP  who died in April.but is now being taken forward by Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

The My Life My Death My Choice campaign  has asked those who support the Bill to email the members of the Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee. The deadline for doing that is today so if this is an important issue to you, don’t miss your chance.

This is obviously a very emotive subject. There are strong views on both sides and it’s one of these issues where application of liberal principles can lead you to either.

At the Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference in Aberdeen this March, My Life, My Death, My Choice ran a fringe meeting which was a bit of a gold standard for how this issue should be debated, with great respect being shown for opposing feelings by both sides. The person speaking against the Bill was the Rev Scott Rennie who went out of his way to show understanding to those who supported it. He said a good death was important, but we must be very careful in making decisions about dispensing with something as precious as life. He was worried that people might be concerned that they would be a burden on relatives. You can see my tweets from this meeting and some photos towards the end of this Storify thingy.

My own view was borne out of seeing someone I loved suffer horribly at a very young age. That person asked several times for help to end her life, help that we chose not to give. I wish she had had the choice to make her own decision and to explain it to us. Actually, I’m not sure that she would have chosen to go through with an assisted suicide, but it feels right to me that the choice should have been hers to make. My concerns would be that we would need to be assured of future investment in palliative care. The passing of this legislation would have to be accompanied by much greater knowledge and understanding of all the options available and also some sort of guarantee that good quality hospice style care would be available to all.  There would also have to be safeguards. The Scottish Bill requires three separate requests to be made before a prescription can be issued, and that prescription must be used within two weeks or it expires.  The English Bill requires the person to make a witnessed declaration of intent which is countersigned by two doctors who has examined them separately, and stating that they have the capacity to do so and are satisfied that the decision is voluntary.

Whatever happens to these bills, I think it’s very important that we as a society become more open about discussing issues around death so that we can learn from others and be more aware of what people go through. That can only help more people die well, however they choose to do so.

What is your view on these Bills? Has the time come to follow places like Oregon and put in place a law that enables people to choose the time of their death?


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Richard Dean 6th Jun '14 - 4:47pm

    Many of the choices we make in life are in some sense reversible. We choose to holiday in Wales, but we could change our mind before going, or we could pull out after arriving if the weather’s awful. We choose to view BBC1 but can switch to ITV anytime, and switch back.

    Choosing to die doesn’t have this reversible feature, because once you’re gone you’re gone. So maybe framing the argument in terms of choice isn’t really appropriate.

  • Simon Beard 6th Jun '14 - 5:44pm

    Caron – Yes we should have a debate on this. But there is party policy here and it is very clear. Lib Dem’s support a change in the law. I hope the party will not shy away from advocating this democratically made policy simply on the grounds that this is an ‘issue of conscience’. Many people feel many things are matter of conscience (personally Secret Courts springs to mind), but sometimes we have to make decisions together on these issues. Liberal Democrats have done this twice, and both times and vote was to support this change. As a party let us back this change, whilst continuing to support and uphold those who disagree with us on this.

    Helen – Not Dead Yet is not a ‘disability rights alliance’, it is a pro-life organisation for disabled people. That is fine and I have no problem with disabled people forming a pro-life organisation for themselves, but their are many for whom the right to end a life of unbearable suffering is something they want for themselves because they are disabled. I have conditions that mean I could join Not Dead yet if I so wished, but actually I think that society has for far too long felt empowered to tell disabled people what we can and cannot do with our own lives and that this should be end in relation to end of life issues just as it should with issues of birth, sex, work, education and everything else. I may or may not be in a minority of disabled people on this issue, but I think it is wrong to equate pro life with disability rights.

  • Simon Beard 6th Jun '14 - 6:11pm

    PS: The tags on this topic are a bit of a mess with both ‘assisted dying’ and ‘assisted suicide’ being used somewhat arbitrarily (and this article is tagged under neither. It may interest some to read other contributions on LDV through the years.

    On the side of a change in the law we have
    Chris Davies –
    Eriv Avbury –
    Myself –

    On the side of the status quo (or something like it) we have
    Alex Carlile (who doesn’t seem to like me) –
    Tahir Maher –

    Anthony Lester has also written on the tengential issue of whether and when people should be prosecuted for helping relatives travel abroad to recieve assistance to end their lives

  • Michael Berridge 6th Jun '14 - 7:42pm

    I think Simon Beard’s comment is very important and I also think it is disingenuous of Helen Tedcastle to start off as if offering reasoned argument only to reveal at the very end (with her web link) that she is a committed campaigner for life at any cost. That is her right, but she should be up front about it.

  • Richard Dean 6th Jun '14 - 10:37pm

    @Michael. Why should Helen be “upfront”? Being a committed campaigner doesn’t affect the strength or weakness of an argument.

  • Graham Martin-Royle 7th Jun '14 - 12:22am

    If you don’t want to terminate your life for whatever reason, fine, don’t do it., but please don’t be so rude as to decide what I can and cannot do with my life.

  • “Why should Helen be “upfront”? Being a committed campaigner doesn’t affect the strength or weakness of an argument.”

    If it’s another case of beliefs essentially arising out of religious faith being imposed on those who don’t share that faith, then it’s highly relevant to know the background.

  • @Graham Martin-Royle

    This isn’t about what you can and cannot do with your life. It’s about what other people can do with your life.

  • Richard Dean 7th Jun '14 - 10:12am

    Whatever the background of belief may be, it doesn’t affect the strength or weakness of an argument. Therefore it’s not relevant to deciding whether to accept the argument or not.

  • “Whatever the background of belief may be, it doesn’t affect the strength or weakness of an argument. Therefore it’s not relevant to deciding whether to accept the argument or not.”

    Of course it is – in just the same way that it’s relevant to know who is paying poitical lobbyists to push a particular line.

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