We’re all entitled to a good death. It may be a subject some people find hard to talk about, but we’re all gonna die.
When we do, I’m sure none of us want it to be a long-drawn-out affair: no one wants to suffer, no one wants to be in pain.
Our death and the way we want it to happen will be as personal to each of us as the way we have chosen to live our lives. We can leave a will, instructions for a funeral and even complete organ donation cards, but when it comes to having a say in the event itself, at the moment, that is out of our hands.
Last week, Margo MacDonald, the Independent MSP for the Lothians, introduced a Bill to the Scottish Parliament which aims to change that. The Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill is her second attempt to introduce legislation in Scotland to allow people the right to die.
As you would expect on an emotive issue such as this, the public debate is polarised, both on the issue of whether the legislation can protect vulnerable people from being coerced to end their lives, and whether or not taking one’s own life is the right thing to do.
Margo and her team believe that this piece of legislation addresses many of the issues which saw their first attempt, the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, defeated in 2010. While the principles remain the same, there are much more stringent safeguards in this Bill which will prevent the legislation being misused.
This is a competent bill, one that has probably been subject to more scrutiny, development and consultation than any other this parliament has considered. It is a progressive piece of legislation which is about empowering people and giving them control over their own lives.
Predictably, though, it is the apparently “moral” question that is the big hurdle for this legislation. Is it right to take our own lives?
Except that’s not what this legislation is about; it is about letting people decide what’s right for them. And, while a moral minority of campaigners purporting to speak on behalf of “everyone” might wish to change this debate into a moral question, they miss the point entirely.
This Bill is about choice and only about choice. At the moment we have no choice. Unless we are physically able to take our own lives, we have to wait to die or have a loved one risk prosecution if they help us. Some people are happy to accept that, but others are not.
MSPs considering this Bill in the midst of this debate should remind themselves that in passing the Bill they will be allowing people to choose, but by voting against it they will deny people that choice.
This debate isn’t about whether or not assisted suicide is right or wrong, but about whether we believe people should have choices about how they die, just as they have choices about how they live.