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ss triple helix - summer 2005,  Scottish Assisted Suicide Bill - An opportunity to show that sanctity of life trumps autonomy

Scottish Assisted Suicide Bill - An opportunity to show that sanctity of life trumps autonomy

When the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999 (having been united to the UK parliament since 1707), the Scotland Act 1998 restored responsibility for all biomedical matters north of the border except in matters relating to abortion, xenotransplantation (but not transplantation), surrogacy arrangements, human fertilisation and embryology, human genetics and medicines for human use.

Although a number of Scottish voices can still be heard complaining about the extent of this list, these reservations to the UK parliament were prepared in order to avoid risks of bioethical tourism within the UK (such as with abortion) or issues which were deemed too complex to consider on a non-UK level (such as xenotransplantation, genetics and embryology).

In this context, it was also not long before a young Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP, Jeremy Purvis, noticed that end-oflife issues were the remit of the Scottish Parliament. As a result, he decided in 2004 to make assisted suicide his defining campaign based on the Death with Dignity Act (1997) of Oregon, USA. Mr Purvis' reasons for wanting to legalise assisted suicide were presented in an interview he gave to the Scottish press in which he indicated that 'for some, the sanctity of life is absolute. Only God can take life, in all circumstances and with no exceptions. I respect this view, but I do not hold to it. Important as the sanctity of life is, it has to take second place to personal autonomy - the right of self determination.' [1]

The first shots of Mr Purvis' campaign were fired in at the beginning of 2005 when he published a consultation entitled 'Dying with Dignity'. This outlined his proposal to give a competent adult suffering from a terminal illness, who makes a persistent and considered request to die, the right to receive medical help to bring about his or her death.[2]

On a deeper reading, however, the consultation document is a 'Scotch broth' of different issues including human dignity, quality of life, dying/killing, autonomy and suffering. These are then all 'stewed' together into a sort of indistinguishable mush of arguments with no real logical consistency. The resulting mixture then tries to prop-up the main autonomy argument.

There are indeed many shortcomings with Mr Purvis' ill-prepared campaign but he does seem to genuinely encourage debate on the issues. This gives Christians an opportunity, which CMF in Scotland has already taken,[3] to define what the arguments actually are and to address the key issues while demonstrating the dangerous consequences of assisted suicide. In addition, it gives us the chance to remind the Scottish public that the sanctity of human life is indeed absolute and must not take second place to personal autonomy. Only then can we continue living in a society that believes in human dignity, a dignity that ultimately comes from God.

References
  1. Purvis J. Holyrood bill must breathe life into the euthanasia debate. Sunday Herald 2004;19 September. www.sundayherald.com/44825
  2. Dying with Dignity. A Consultation by Jeremy Purvis MSP. p5 www.jeremypurvis.org/consultation1.htm
  3. CMF Scotlands submission on Jeremy Purvis' bill
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