Dying with dignity, not right to die

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With Margo MacDonald once again attempting to introduce her Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill (your report, 15 November), it must be stated that advocacy of suicide and euthanasia is wrong because it makes several fundamental errors of judgment.

First, it fails to recognise that the lives of all human beings have value and dignity. Second, it fails to recognise that our lives are not our own to dispose of at will. Third, it illustrates an attitude toward human life and suffering that is conditioned by a society that places too much value on productivity and usefulness.

Finally, it is a contravention of the fifth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” The force of this commandment is not lessened if the person killed is complicit in the killing. You do not eliminate suffering by eliminating the one who suffers.

As history testifies, slippery slopes can become very slippery indeed, and laws that have been introduced as mere exceptions have been used time and again as the first step in larger and more sweeping developments. The abortion laws in this country are a case in point; we now have what in practice is abortion on demand.

Do we really want to go down the same road as Belgium? What began there with euthanasia only for constant, unbearable, untreatable suffering and only for consenting adults keeps expanding, with consequences that no-one foresaw.

The only appropriate standpoint is that of insistence on the inviolability of every single human life and a commitment unconditionally to promote, in all its aspects, the Gospel of Life.

Martin Conroy


East Lothian

The suggestion by John Black (Letters, 15 November) that “Scotland needs a death with dignity act modelled on the Oregon law” is misconceived.

He says it is neither assisted dying nor euthanasia. We already have the former here and the latter is illegal – rightly so in each case. What he describes is a form of assisted suicide. There are at least three sound reasons for rejecting his suggestion.

First, we accept that a person may kill him/herself without state interference. However, we recognise that the appropriate response to such intent is to address the despair that drives the will to suicide. The Samaritans, the Choose Life campaign and the extensive Applied Suicide Intervention Skills training available are testimony to this.

To go in the opposite direction in the name of questionable concepts of “dignity” and “right to die” would be a retrograde step. Ludwig Minelli, founder of Dignitas, long ago explained how anyone, no matter how disabled, could die through choice simply by stopping eating, and drinking only tea and water. That answered the main plank of current campaigners.

Second, Oregon does not strike me as a model of wise legislation for Scotland to follow. Former chief justice Edwin Peterson has described its death penalty system as “dysfunctional, expensive, unworkable and unfair”. Although current governor John Kitzhabert has said that he would allow no more executions on his watch because he believed it was morally wrong, it remains one of the majority of US states to retain the death penalty.

There are 37 prisoners on Death Row there and none has exhausted the nine separate appeals available to them. Do we really want to follow such an example in the name of a “right to die” when death, in time, is inevitable part of being human?

Third, all the well-known arguments against any form of assisted suicide provision by the state or public agency are exemplified in a timely and significant article in Nursing Standard. This appeared last week as Margo MacDonald introduced her bill to Holyrood.

Although reporting a case study of a patient with dementia, the article holds lessons for the whole field of debate. Linda Nicholson concluded: “It is important that healthcare professionals work towards fulfilling the wishes of the person with dementia by giving him or her the opportunity to die with dignity, rather than have the person pursue death on request.”

Bill MacDonald

Bonnyrigg, Midlothian