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Consultation on Scottish Euthanasia Bill - Care Not Killing briefing

Published: 28th April 2010

Care Not Killing Alliance

End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill 2010: a briefing, and how to respond to the current consultation

On 10 February 2010, the Scottish Parliament established the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill Committee. The remit is to consider the general principles of Margo MacDonald's bill and report on them to the Scottish Parliament. On Wednesday 3 March the Committee launched its public call for evidence on the Bill. Further information is available on the Committee's webpage. [1]

Those making written submissions are asked to send their views on the Bill by no later than Wednesday, 12 May. Care Not Killing would encourage all individuals to respond and would encourage doctors or other health care professionals to detail from your professional experience your reasons for opposing the legalisation of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

The main purposes of the Bill are to:

  • allow registered medical practitioners in Scotland to assist patients who wish to bring their own lives to an end – known as an 'an assisted death'
  • establish who is eligible to receive an assisted death from a registered medical practitioner
  • establish the process by which someone qualifies to receive an assisted death
  • establish the responsibilities and duties of the registered medical practitioner and the psychiatrist in response to a request for an assisted death.

Committee members include: Ross Finnie (Convener), Ian McKee (Deputy Convener), Michael Matheson, Nanette Milne, Helen Eadie, Cathy Peattie

Committee convener Ross Finnie MSP has said: 'A wide variety of groups and individuals, from medical practitioners to charities and lawyers in the UK and overseas, will have a view on the issue of assisted death. We want to hear from as many of them as possible to help us shape our consideration of the Bill as it progresses through Parliament.'

The committee is inviting views in writing on all aspects of the Bill. It wants responses to address a number of points, including:

  • whether someone should be able to request end-of-life assistance from a registered medical practitioner
  • the requirements for age and connection with Scotland set out in the Bill. The Bill states that anyone requesting an assisted death must be 16 years of age or over and have been registered with a medical practice in Scotland for at least 18 months
  • the two categories of people who would qualify to be assisted under the terms of the Bill. They are individuals who have been diagnosed as terminally ill and find life intolerable or those who are permanently physically incapacitated to such an extent they are not able to live independently and find life intolerable
  • the two-stage consent and verification process to be followed for an eligible person to receive end of life assistance
  • the level and nature of safeguards in the Bill

For details of how to submit your evidence, please visit the committee's webpage.[2]

Responses should be sent, wherever possible, electronically and in MS Word format to:

The Committee's consideration of the Bill is unlikely to be completed by the summer recess. Most likely, they will take oral evidence in May and June and publish their report during the summer or early autumn. The Stage 1 debate is due to take place in early November.

NB: You do not have to be a Scottish resident to respond to the consultation

Margo MacDonald's End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill - a brief critique

  • The scope of the Bill is incredibly broad. It would offer assisted suicide to people who are to some degree dependent on others and would include those with life-threatening and non-life-threatening disabilities, and those with relatively common conditions such as, for example, insulin-dependent diabetes, heart or lung disease. Tens of thousands of seriously ill and disabled people throughout Scotland would fall within its remit.
  • The Bill purports to allow assisted suicide (where a patient is provided with lethal drugs by a physician for self-administration). In fact it goes much further. It would also legalise euthanasia (where a physician administers lethal drugs to a patient directly).
  • The drafting of the Bill is vague and full of euphemisms and ambiguities. Among others, there is no definition of what it is to find life 'intolerable', and the methods by which life would be legally terminated are not identified.
  • The bill is not clear on what means can be used to end a person's life. One might assume that it envisages lethal drugs but this is not specified, and therefore the 'means of administration' might conceivably include gas (carbon monoxide or helium), hanging, a bullet, or a push off a cliff.
  • Safeguards are seriously defective. Among others, there is real doubt that the suggested medical assessments would be sufficient to discern that the patient is not under external pressure to request assisted suicide.
  • The Bill contains no specified procedures by which doctors would report their involvement with an assisted suicide. This makes meaningful audit of how the law was working highly problematic.
  • It places responsibility for providing 'end of life assistance' on the shoulders of Scottish doctors, for whom it contains no 'conscience clause' and the majority of whom would not be prepared to participate in implementing the proposals of the Bill.
  • The Bill is intended to 'enable a person to die with dignity and a minimum of distress'. This is already provided through good health care and particularly palliative medicine.

General Points

  • The vast majority of medical practitioners and all the Royal Colleges of Medicine do not support assisted suicide.
  • The Scottish Parliament has already had two opportunities to discuss assisted suicide. On both occasions the legalisation of assisted suicide was convincingly rejected.
  • For society to accept assisted suicide or euthanasia means it agrees that some lives no longer have any meaning, value or worth.
  • Having assisted suicide legislation in place sends a message to vulnerable, ill, and elderly people that they should take up the option of assisted suicide so as not to be a burden.
  • Evidence from the Netherlands and the US state of Oregon – where assisted suicide is currently legal – shows that it is impossible to prevent abuses from occurring.

For further information:

Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668

Media Enquiries:

Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225

About CMF:

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.

CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.

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