Assisted suicide safeguards ‘do not reassure’

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I am surprised that such an eminent neuroscientist as Emeritus Professor Charles Warlow (Letters, 18 December) should brush aside the Hippocratic tradition as no longer being of great relevance in medical ethics. This tradition, supplemented by Christian teaching, was foundational to modern medicine.

Even worse, he confidently assures us that, with proper safeguards, a civilised society should allow the few people who have such unrelievable suffering that they wish to die to have the option of an assisted death.

This assertion does not bear rigorous scrutiny. Statistics (even with incomplete reporting systems) in the United States and countries that have legalised some form of assisted suicide or euthanasia show a steady annual rise in numbers undergoing assisted dying and an incremental extension to people with conditions not envisaged in the legislation.

Experience shows that proper safeguards do not prevent extension of the conditions qualifying for assisted dying. Once the taboo against deliberate killing is removed from the medical profession and the expectations of society change, it is inevitable that abuses will occur. The few become the many, some of whom will be involuntarily assisted to die.

Margo MacDonald’s Assisted Suicide Bill claims to offer strong safeguards to limit such extension. However, I am not reassured by her statement in the accompanying memorandum (paragraph 55) that she would be confident that, once it has been seen to operate effectively for a number of years, there may be an opportunity for further developments in the law that would offer hope to other categories of people seeking assistance to die.

As a wheelchair user with MS, I am opposed to the legalisation of any form of assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Our humanity is best expressed and affirmed by caring for one another to the very end of life, rather than by deliberately ending a life.

(Rev Dr) Donald M MacDonald

Craiglockhart Grove


Broadly speaking, I am in sympathy with Tiffany Jenkins (Perspective, 17 December) and her serious concerns about assisted dying, or euthanasia, and in particular with her having us note the way language is changing and accommodating the “pro” arguments.

But I find it so depressing that among the many varieties of argument in the “anti” camp, there is always a clear avoidance of mention of how intensive and prolonged is the misery and pain of very many of those approaching the end years of life.

We are always told by the anti arguers to have confidence in palliative care and pain managing regimes and to expect these to have dispersed the inevitability of prolonged suffering.

We are told this as a fact, but it is not so. It is not a fact for very, very many individuals.

Many people experience decades of intensifying pain and experience their body tightening around them.

Worse, many have seen close relatives go through similar journeys and so know exactly what the future will be: more pain and more disability.

This personal reality is met with a kind of high mindedness by the anti lobby, settled in their argument that life must be preserved at all costs.

Pain and disability do not in themselves make the case for assisted suicide, but the denial of this reality is a curious one.

If the force of argument used by the anti campaigners were to be applied to delivering the palliative and pain management guarantee that they claim is already in place, then we could all have more confidence in their point of view.

Stephen Fox



While totally respecting the sincerity of the many so opposed to allowing individuals – or those whom they might nominate – a right to bring a dignified end to life I often wonder how many actually have practical experience to draw upon.

How many have the experience of actually being a carer for someone so very close to you, ending up at night quietly crying out of despair at the horrors of what old age can bring: loss of dignity, independence, quality of life, mental anguish and pleas to put an end to it?

Do they have experience of the care homes, mostly excellent but still requiring steeling of nerves to enter faced with the sights, sounds and indeed smells of those waiting for nature to take its course?

For many of us who have been in such situations the terror that lies ahead of possibly being so reduced in quality of life becomes an ever more frequent nightmare and one from which we would only wish to be allowed to plan to choose freedom.

Is a society that will not contemplate this as a result I believe of pressure from what is now a minority really the caring and compassionate society we believe in and would want it to be?

(Dr) G A Mieras

Oxgangs Road