Last chance to convince MSPs on Assisted Suicide Bill

From the Facebook page of my friend Anne, reproduced with her permission:

My mother was riddled with cancer, according to the Coroner, when she planned her successful suicide in 1972 at the age of 54. She waited for her first grandchild to be safely born, chose a day my brother and doctor wife were visiting so that my father wouldn’t find her, left notes around the house re unfinished business (including knitting for her grandson), went to a spare bedroom and took sleeping tablets writing a note as she fell asleep. It was the only way she could make sure the family didn’t watch her die a slow and painful death.

Under the new legislation, she could have met her grandson and we could have said our goodbyes. I have waited over forty years for this – please don’t make me wait any more.

Tomorrow the Scottish Parliament debates the Assisted Suicide Bill. This Bill would give terminally ill people the right to receive assistance in ending their lives within a very tightly regulated procedure as set out (from the My Life, My Death, My Choice” website) below:

A person who wants to begin the process must:

  • Be over 16 years of age
  • Be registered as a patient in Scotland

There are three stages being proposed before assisted suicide would be lawful.

  • Stage 1: Person must sign a Preliminary Declaration. This can be made by someone who is in good health.
  • Stage 2: At least 7 days later, the person must sign a “First Request for Assistance” which must be endorsed by two medical professionals.
  • Stage 3: At least 14 days later, the person must sign a “Second Request for Assistance” which must also be endorsed by two medical professionals.

At both requests for assistance, the medical professionals must certify that the person is suffering from a terminal or life-shortening illness or a progressive condition and are capable of:

  1. Making a decision to make the request,
  2. Communicating the decision,
  3. Understanding the decision, and
  4. Retaining the memory of the decision

Only if all of these barriers are passed will a drug or other substance to end the person’s life be prescribed. A licensed facilitator will be assigned to provide comfort and assistance for the person when they take the drug or other substance prescribed to help them end their own life by suicide.

If the person chooses not to die by suicide within 14 days of the “Second Request for Assistance” then the drug will be taken away, and the person must make a further “Second Request for Assistance”.

This is a measure which commands widespread support amongst the population but it’s far from certain that MSPs will pass it.

I wrote to my MSPs this morning to ask them to support the measure. It’s something I consider to be a liberal measure because it gives people the choice to do what is right for them without harming others. This is what I said to them:

I am still haunted, almost 30 years on, by the suffering (a relative) went through in the final stages of her Cancer. It was very distressing for me as a 19 year old to have her ask repeatedly for us to end her life because she was in so much pain and distress. We did the best that we could to comfort her, but it made us feel awful to turn down her heartfelt pleas.

She wanted the choice to determine the manner of her rapidly approaching and inevitable death. To me, that’s completely reasonable. The state has to recognise that people are adults and should be given the dignity and respect they deserve in these situations.

The key principles of the bill before you tomorrow would have allowed her to do that in her own time. I don’t know whether she would ultimately have made the choice to end her own life but at least she would have had it as an option.

Of course it’s important that nobody is forced into feeling that they have to end their life, and the bill has sufficient safeguards to protect against that. The evidence from the rest of the world doesn’t suggest that pressure and exploitation are in evidence. Only a very small number of people even use the provisions of the legislation  – but I think it’s important to recognise their right to do so.

I personally think that we should be doing more to talk about death, to make it less taboo. I was particularly moved by Dr Kate Granger’s video last week where she talked about the plans she had made for her death. We need to make sure that people have real options when it comes to approaching their death, whether that means services to support them at home, hospice care and the very best palliative care. I believe that the option of assisted suicide should be there for those terminally ill people who would choose to take it. Please don’t deny them that chance.

I appreciate that others may have a different viewpoint and it’s important that the debate be conducted in an atmosphere of respect and thoughtfulness.

My Life, My Death, My Choice have made it very easy for us to contact our MSPs and you don’t have to use their suggested content – it’s better if you don’t.

Just ask them to do this for Anne and the many others who have similarly touching stories to tell.

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

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6 Comments

  • John Roffey 26th May '15 - 7:43pm

    As a Rinzai Zen formerstudent [this is also a koan – a statement, which is used in Zen practice to provoke the “great doubt” and test a student’s progress in Zen practice]:

    No Work, No Food

    Hyakujo, the Chinese Zen master, used to labor with his pupils even at the age of eighty, trimming the gardens, cleaning the grounds, and pruning the trees.

    The pupils felt sorry to see the old teacher working so hard, but they knew he would not listen to their advice to stop, so they hid away his tools.

    That day the master did not eat. The next day he did not eat, nor the next. “He may be angry because we have hidden his tools,” the pupils surmised. “We had better put them back.”

    The day they did, the teacher worked and ate the same as before. In the evening he instructed them: “No work, no food.”

  • I’ve contacted my MSPs about it, but I’m not optimistic that it will pass this time. Although most people (and I suspect most MSPs) are almost certainly in favour of legalised assisted suicide, the other side has more powerful lobbies.

  • Ben Jephcott 26th May '15 - 10:15pm

    I can understand how awful it is to witness the suffering of loved ones, having recently spent a considerable time dealing with a close relative immobilised and in great pain, though to my huge relief in the end treatment has largely worked, at least for the time being. However, I really hope this proposal is not passed, for a host of reasons.

    Firstly, the definitions of ‘suffering from a terminal illness’ is vague – we are all suffering from a terminal illness called progressive ageing in that we will all die. There is nothing about degree or life expectancy. Some conditions which are likely to be terminal or are at one time thought to be terminal (e.g. AIDS patients in the 1990s) turn out to be chronic, or even substantially curable.

    This proposal would in effect open the door to assisted suicide on demand – it goes much further than the proposal Westminster has been looking at which required a prognosis of death within six months. I do not support that proposal either for many reasons – the lack of certainty and the slippery slope argument in particular – but the plan in Scotland as it appears here would be much more dangerous to sufferers of anxiety or depression or victims of abuse.

    What is there in this proposal to prevent a ‘decision’ being taken by a subject while suffering from (presumably) undiagnosed anxiety or depression, where the ‘decision’ taken might be very different after the subject experiences effective palliative care, or treatment for depression, or both? Or steps by society to challenge the perception of being a burden to others? There is nothing about the reason behind the decision to seek death, only a consistent pattern of reasoning (which is completely different) over a rather short timeframe.

    People who are depressed can take apparently very logical decisions and be very conscious and clear about their reasoning at the time, but see the world and life and themselves very differently after effective treatment. Anyone who has lived with people suffering from this condition knows how enormous the swings and roundabouts of perception can be over time.

    Similarly the conditions do not appear to specify any steps to ensure that the subject is not being pressurised by others, or simply feels so guilty by being a long term burden on their carers that they have ‘decided’ to ask for assisted suicide.

    The short timescale is hardly a safeguard against a situation where the subject is in a psychological state of mind that could have arisen over months or years – but still might not be present if the factors that led to it are properly addressed – whether it be long term depression, or treatable pain.

    There is also no apparent safeguard against the decision to seek death being made after hidden elder abuse by carers or relatives or both, which we are only now coming to realise is not some aberration but an enormous and endemic problem in our society.

    There can be no going back in assisted suicide. Just like the death penalty for murderers, if we get it wrong there is no redress.

    We need to get serious about mental health – as Norman Lamb has been trying to do at Westminster – and radically re-prioritise the fight for palliative care and against elder abuse.

    I desperately hope the Scottish Parliament does not respond in this dangerous way to emotional and heartfelt pleas from individual experience that cloud our judgement about the impact of such a change on wider society – and the risk of delivering death instead of a better if imperfect life to the ill, the weak and the abused.

  • Sally Haynes-Preece 27th May '15 - 7:55am

    I have worked in palliative care within a hospice both as a pharmacist and as a complementary therapist.. The hospice movement does amazing things helping people to die with dignity and with support for their loved ones. I have treated patients who were ready to die and wanted to die. I have treated carers who could not let go of their loved one. I have treated bereaved people unable to come to terms with the loss because of business left unfinished. I have seen people left shattered by a sudden death, and comforted by extra days or weeks of life due to good palliative care that enabled things to be said even though all active treatment had been withdrawn and the patient was being kept comfortable (I know of one man on the old Liverpool Care Pathway who lived in comfort for 6 weeks after the decision was taken) I can see both sides of this argument but I cannot feel it is right for any health professional to be asked to help another end their life.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th May '15 - 11:56am

    @ Sally Rees-Payne
    ‘ I can see both sides of this argument but I cannot feel it is right for any health professional to be asked to help another end their life.’

    I couldn’t agree more. I hope this flawed and dangerous Bill is voted down by MSPs.

    Furthermore, Capital Punishment was for decades hugely popular in the polls but MPs resisted following polls and fluctuating public opinion – with good reason and I suspect the same goes for the issue of assisted-suicide/Euthanasia.

  • Helen Tedcastle 27th May '15 - 12:42pm

    Sally Haynes-Preece

    My apologies for getting your name wrong in my original comment.

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