Assisted suicide

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Considerable effort is being exerted by supporters of the bill proceeding through our Scottish Parliament to legalise assisted suicide to persuade us and MSPs that this bill will apply only to the few, that it is not euthanasia and that every safeguard is in place.

The previous failed bill was found wanting and at a second attempt the proponents, who will not stop until they have this legislation passed, are seeking to quell concerned minds with one modification after another.

Unchanged, however, is the proposal that assisted suicide would be open only to those with a terminal illness and a limited expectation of life.

That would be determined by medical practitioners.

Recent history, however, is a good example of how such prognostication can so very often be very wrong and I refer to the case of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, where the prognosis hazarded by a team of oncologists, some of apparently considerable renown, was grossly underestimated – by years.

I spent 30 years of my medical career as an oncologist caring for patients in all stages of cancer and, from my experience, I would not assume to know and certify when someone had only three or, worse still, six months to live.

If this bill is passed, however, I have no doubt that practitioners will be found who will express greater confidence than I would and we would have to hope that they are better prognosticians than I ever was.

There is also the issue of the need for suicide to be the means of death – the patient has to be able to administer the neat and tidy poison for themselves.

This bill will do nothing for those unable to do this and, if it is passed, it will only be a matter of time before there is pressure on the grounds of human rights and equality for the significantly disabled to extend the law to permit euthanasia.

Death is inevitable for us all but we do not discuss it except in the context of making the time and means of that death a “right”, with always the concern over dignity.

Have we not accepted yet the message of the hospice movement, its pioneers and its professionals of today that the terminally ill can be cared for with dignity and solace and comfort without the need to assume death will be otherwise and hence have to be precipitated by assistance of one kind or another?

(Dr) Alan Rodger

Clairmont Gardens

Glasgow