Assisted suicide plans ‘lack safeguards’

Picture: Gordon Fraser

Picture: Gordon Fraser

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CONTROVERSIAL plans to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland are “not fit for purpose”, MSPs were today told.

There is a lack of safeguards against vulnerable patients being pressurised by friends and family into ending if their lives if they become a burden, MSPs on Holyrood’s health committee were told today.

And the prospect of a two week time limit for Scots to commit suicide after taking possession of a lethal drugs cocktail from a pharmacist will also place undue pressure on them.

Robert Preston, a director of the Living and Dying Well think tank, said there is an increasing number of people who are “incapacitated” and have to be looked after by their families.

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“You can see a situation where someone thinks `I’m going to die in two or three years time, why don’t I get it over with now, leave my inheritance, they’re struggling financially.’

“It’s a very wide spectrum - how do you guard against it?

• Concern over assisted suicide ‘time limit’

“A doctor may be able to assess it if they knew the family - do we live in that kind of society? My Doctor has never been to my house in 12 years.

“If I applied for assisted suicide, he wouldn’t have an earthly if I was being coerced or whether I was capable.”

‘intolerable’

Under the proposed legislation, only those who are terminally ill or suffering from deteriorating progressive conditions which make life intolerable will be able to seek assisted suicide.

Mr Preston said he could be prepared to support the bill if it is “tightened up.”

“If the Bill had serious safeguards, not just a doctor saying `to the best of my knowledge’ but actually going through specific processes that a person met all the criteria.

“The Bill as it stands is simply not fit for purpose.”

But Dr Stephen Smith, Lecturer in Law, Birmingham Law School said there will “always be incidences of abuse” regardless of the safeguards put in place.

He added: “One of the things I have a particular concern about with this particular Bill in relation to coercion, is this 14 day period - that you’ve got 14 days to use the prescription. That strikes me as a fairly coercive incidence.”

READ MORE: Hugh Reilly: We shouldn’t deny assisted suicide

Many people want to have the reassurance of having the medication, but not to use it, the academic said. Instead, they wake up up in the morning and say “No, I’m good, I don’t need this today.”

This can be “life affirming”, he added.

The bill is the second attempt to change the law and was launched by the late independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who died last year.

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