Assisted dying law is a challenge for us all

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Paul Brownsey (Letters, 26 July) alleges that my opposition to the legalisation of ­assisted dying, as “a denial of assisted death, in carefully specified circumstances, to those crying out for it in terminal and unassuageable pain” is unjustified. In response I would make several points.

Firstly, neither of the bills at present before the Westminster and Scottish parliaments define “carefully specified circumstances”. Despite the several attempts to persuade the parliaments to pass some form of euthanasia ­legislation, these bills are poorly drafted and wide open to different interpretations. This will become apparent during their scrutiny by parliamentary committees.

Secondly, it is far from my purpose to deny anyone as dignified and pain-free a dying process as possible. I ­believe that modern palliative care can achieve this in the vast majority of cases.

Statistics from the American state of Oregon (which are probably incomplete and yet record a year-on-year rise in numbers availing of such a law) show that loss of dignity, control and independence and a wish not be a burden on others are far more often cited as reasons for requesting ­assisted suicide than uncontrollable pain.

Thirdly, Mr Brownsey appears to misunderstand my statement that if I decided my life was not worth living, this would have an effect on others in similar circumstances. Is he not aware of the so-called Werther effect (after a character in Goethe’s novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther)? Many studies have shown that publicity of the details of suicides is followed by a rise in the numbers of suicides – so-called copycat suicides. The cause of such suicide spikes is controversial, but the fact remains they occur. This shows our decisions affect not only ourselves but are liable to have an impact on vulnerable people in similar situations.

(Rev Dr) Donald M MacDonald

Craiglockhart Grove

Edinburgh

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