175 healthcare professionals have issued an open letter to Scotland’s Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, outlining their concerns over an assisted suicide bill tabled last month by Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur.
According to the BBC, a consultation on its contents is expected to take place this autumn.
The last time assisted suicide was debated in Holyrood, it was rejected by 82 votes to 36.
“The immeasurable worth of every human life”
Their letter has been signed by a coalition of healthcare professionals including David Galloway, a recently retired consultant surgeon and former president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow, and Professor Marie Fallon, the Chair of Palliative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.
The letter states: “The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised. The prohibition of killing is present in almost all civilised societies due the immeasurable worth of every human life”.
“Everyone has a right to life under Article 1 of The Human Rights Act 1998 such that no-one should be deprived of that life intentionally”.
It goes on to argue that some patients may never consider assisted suicide before it is suggested to them.
The letter also argues that the “good intention” of widening patient choice will simply reduce the choices of the more vulnerable.
“Dangerous for disabled people”
Labour MSP Pam Duncan Glancy has also warned that plans to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland would be “dangerous for disabled people”.
In a tweet, she explained; “I am deeply worried about this. Disabled people do not yet enjoy our right to live equally. I’d far rather we had a right to live enshrined in law, long before we have a right to die. Until all things are equal, this is dangerous for disabled people”.
She went on: “We need to make sure living is better for disabled people than death. That means properly funded care, accessible housing, equal access to health care & jobs and so on. My fear is that, bluntly, all of that costs more & the government haven’t committed nearly enough money to it”.
While McArthur’s proposed changes to assisted suicide legislation would in theory not permit an assisted suicide beyond the terminally ill and ‘mentally competent’, other countries that have introduced supposedly restricted assisted suicide and euthanasia legislation have seen an expansion of their laws as medical professionals and activists push the boundaries of acceptable practice.
Euthanasia has been legal in the Netherlands since 2002. The law permits voluntary euthanasia for anyone over the age of 16, and children aged 13-15 can be euthanised with their parents’ consent. Earlier this year, the Dutch government said it would be changing the regulations to allow doctors to end the lives of terminally ill children between the ages of one and twelve.
Fear of being a ‘burden’
Countries like Canada, where the practice has already been legalised, reveal that the motivations for assisted suicide are largely social and not related to physical suffering. In 2019 for example, Canada reported that more than a third (34%) of those who opted for “medical assistance in dying” cited concerns of being a burden to family or carers. A further 13.7% cited “isolation or loneliness” as their reason for procuring an assisted suicide.
This experience is corroborated by the Oregon Health Authority, which found a series of concerns not related to physical suffering for people who ended their lives by assisted suicide.
The report lists ‘End of Life Concerns’ of patients who underwent an assisted suicide in 2020. 53.1% of patients were concerned with being a “burden on family, friends/caregivers”. 94.3% of patients were concerned with being “Less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable”. 93.1% were concerned with “losing autonomy” and 71.8% were concerned with “loss of dignity”. Of the total who have died since 1997, 27.4% have listed “inadequate pain control, or concern about it” as one of their end-of-life concerns.
A recent Irish study on ageing found that three-quarters of people over 50 who had previously expressed a wish to die no longer had that desire two years later and that many who do express a wish to die do so for non-medical reasons.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “Scotland’s new assisted suicide bill presents a false choice between ‘compassionate assisted dying’ and a prolonged painful death. Earlier this month, assisted suicide campaigner Noel Conway had a ‘painless and dignified death’ within the bounds of the current law. Good palliative care must be promoted for people who are suffering at the end of their lives”.
“Mr McArthur’s proposal, however well-intentioned, will almost inevitably extend to the non-terminally ill who are suffering, as it has in other jurisdictions. It is no coincidence that disability rights groups, and many respected healthcare professionals continue to rally against such legislation, for it strikes at the very heart of the dignity and care we ought to afford to each human being”.