Scotland’s Assisted Suicide Bill under further Committee scrutiny

Scotland’s Assisted Suicide Bill has been considered today by the Health and Sport Committee of the Scottish Parliament. This is the Committee which is taking the lead on the Bill, although the Justice Committee has also taken evidence on the legal aspects of the proposed reform.  The Bill was introduced by Margo MacDonald in November 2013 and has been taken forward since her death last April by Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

The Committee took evidence this morning from legal and medical professionals. I was surprised to see the Scotsman report say that the Law Society of Scotland is suggesting that the law as drafted might be against the European Convention on Human Rights. They say it’s in conflict with Article 2, the Right to Life. That hasn’t seemed to have been a problem for the Netherlands and Belgium, where similar legislation was introduced over a decade ago. The point, surely, is that the law gives people the choice about what they want to do faced with a terminal illness. What could be more liberal?

Last week, the My Life, My Death, My Choice campaign released this video to explain what the bill was all about and why they feel it is needed:

Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney Liam McArthur appears in the video explaining his support for the measure.

After a public consultation 75% of people said that they were in favour of the Bill.

I went along to a really illuminating and respectful debate on the Bill at the Scottish Liberal Democrat conference. It was a shining example of how these things should be conducted. The opposing view was given by the Rev Scott Rennie. You can see my tweets from the meeting at the end of this Storify thingy here. 

What is your view of the measure?

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

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7 Comments

  • matt (Bristol) 13th Jan '15 - 3:54pm

    The Law Society of Scotland advice and written evidence (which I have just looked at, on their website) is rather more nuanced than that headline-grabbing snapshot makes it seem.

    And on the ECHR, I think they could be read as saying that the law should in itself explain how it is compatible with the ECHR (which is does not do), and not just leave it to assumption.

    In particular they reserve a lot of their fire for the lack of clarity in the Act about the role of proxies to sign on behalf of the person seeking assisted suicide.

    They comment quite intelligently on the issues around who is to assess that a person is making the request for assisted suicide of their own free will, having the mental capacity to do so, and that are concerned lawyers may be expected to assess this, without medical input.

    One gets the impression that they are not against the principle of the Bill but feel that it is somewhat sketchy on the detail.

  • Helen Tedcastle 13th Jan '15 - 4:03pm

    ‘That hasn’t seemed to have been a problem for the Netherlands and Belgium, where similar legislation was introduced over a decade ago.’

    Yes and there has been a massive rise in assisted suicide cases ever since even in the cases of children. The death culture there is a real concern, which is why Nick Clegg (who knows the Dutch scene) is firmly against any legislation to bring it in here.

    I hope the assisted suicide bill is firmly defeated because I would hate to live in a society where elderly and vulnerable people feel pressure (explicit or implicit) to end their lives, because of the change in culture such a change in the law will bring in inevitably.

  • Helen – you would ‘ hate to live in a society where elderly and vulnerable people feel pressure (explicit or implicit) to end their lives, because of the change in culture such a change in the law will bring in inevitably.’

    I don’t want to live in a society where terminally ill people are denied the right to end their lives at a time , place and in a way of their own choosing.

    The key point here is what safeguards are in place to enable competent adults to make a choice while protecting vulnerable people from pressure.

  • Stephen Hesketh 14th Jan '15 - 12:49pm

    Kay Kirkham14th Jan ’15 – 12:38pm

    Well said Kay.

  • Geoff Hinchliffe 14th Jan '15 - 5:13pm

    If we are to have clear debate on this, can we , for Pete’s sake, be clear about our definitions ? The following are a precis of the definitions accepted by Dignity in Dying, in their book “Assisted Dying – Who maskes the Final Decision” :
    ………………………………………………………………………
    (i) “Assisted dying” refers to those with a terminal condition and a prognosis of six months or less, who wish to self-administer the life-ending medication in order to achieve a peaceful and dignified end.

    (ii) “Assisted suicide”, on the other hand, refers to people with unbearable suffering, possibly terminal, but without a death prognosis. Again the medication must be self-administered.

    (iii) “Voluntary euthanasia” is where the sufferer is physically unable to self-administer, and therefore would need another person to administer the medication.
    ………………………………………………………………………………

    To use “assisted SUICIDE”, when you mean “assisted dying”, merely confuses people’s judgments by introducing avoidable emotions, leading to possibly emotive or less logical opinions.

  • Nigel Cheeseman 14th Jan '15 - 6:29pm

    I’m very pleased to see our MSP, Liam McArthur, supporting this bill and speaking out in favour of it. I don’t want to see elderly or vulnerable people feel under pressure to end their lives either. This bill will not do that. It is a compassionate and liberal thing to do, enabling people to make their own choices, however sad the outcome may be.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jan '15 - 8:51pm

    @ Geoff Hinchliffe
    ‘ …who wish to self-administer the life-ending medication in order to achieve a peaceful and dignified end.’

    Okay let’s unpack the language: ‘ self-administer life-ending medication’ = commit suicide. If you kill yourself that is called suicide.

    Assisted suicide is not confusing. It state what actually occurs. Assisted dying is an obfuscation.

    It’s bit like the Voluntary Euthanasia Society re-branding a few years ago as ‘dignity in dying.’

    There is nothing dignified in suicide even in controlled conditions. Having watched the televised assisted suicide with Terry Pratchett, it was one of the most macabre things I have seen on TV.

    No. Better to invest in palliative care and dignity through care and compassion for the patient without compromising the rights and safeguards of the vulnerable.

    @ Kay Kirkham

    There is no such thing as the ‘right to die.’ That is the phrase of a pressure group – the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

    If someone wants to kill themselves they can do it already. Plenty try and medics and police move heaven and earth to save the person. Are you suggesting they shouldn’t? After all it’s their ‘right to die…’

    The vulnerable have safeguards now in law. The principle of safeguarding the vulnerable is more important than allowing one person to be pressurised into suicide. It is naive to think all relatives are kind and compassionate.

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