From triple helix - summer 2015 - Assisted suicide bills - one down, one to go
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Review by Peter Saunders
CMF Chief Executive
One assisted suicide bill has been defeated and another resurrected in six weeks of roller coaster activity in British parliaments, keeping the debate very much alive. Patrick Harvie's Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill (1) was defeated by 82 votes to 36 in the Scottish Parliament on 27 May. (2)
Harvie proposed an 'Oregon-type system' with trained 'licensed facilitators' but with a wide scope for mentally competent adults (>16) with a 'terminal or life-shortening illness' or a 'progressive and terminal or lifeshortening condition'. The bill was heavily criticised for its relativistic definitions, poor reporting provisions, minimal penalties, a 'saving' clause protecting doctors acting in 'good faith', no specification of 'means' of suicide and the absence of a conscience clause.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had already signalled that she would not support the bill. (3) In addition over 15,000 Scottish people had signed a petition (4) against it.
After winning the Private Members' ballot, Labour MP Rob Marris has resurrected Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Commons. (5) His bill should come forward for a second reading debate on Friday 11 September. Marris's bill, essentially identical to Falconer's, would allow assisted suicide, for mentally competent adults (>18) deemed to have less than six months to live, subject to a series of 'safeguards' including a final decision by a High Court judge.
Elsewhere in the UK, elected representatives have repeatedly refused to consider a law which would undermine the position of disabled, elderly, sick and vulnerable people in society. In December 2014, members of the Welsh Assembly rejected a motion in support of Lord Falconer's bill by 21–12. (6) And in February 2015, members of the House of Keys (lower chamber of the Isle of Man's Tynwald) declined to consider an assisted suicide bill by 17–5. (7)
In spite of wavering public opinion the legalisation of assisted suicide is opposed by those who would be most affected, not least disabled people and healthcare professionals, on the grounds that such laws steer vulnerable people who perceive themselves to be a burden toward suicide. Such a change in the law is unethical, unnecessary and uncontrollable.
For Christians the matter is even simpler – all human beings are created by God in his own image, (8) and it is written 'thou shalt not kill'. (9) The current law is clear and right and our priority should be care, not killing.
2. MSPs reject Assisted Suicide Scotland Bill. BBC News, 25 May 2015
3. First Minister rejects AS Bill. Care Not Killing, 6 March 2015
4. 10,000 sign Scottish petition. Care Not Killing, 27 February 2015
5. MPs to debate assisted dying bill. Politics Home, 9 June 2015
6. Welsh Assembly rejects Falconer. Care Not Killing, 19 December 2014
7. Isle of Man's assisted suicide No. Care Not Killing, 6 February 2015
8. Genesis 1:27
9. Deuteronomy 5:17