Passions frequently run high in the debate concerning assisted suicide and there is a need to retain accuracy when presenting one’s case. Unfortunately, the Rev Dr Donald MacDonald’s contribution (Letters, 28 July) contains several flaws.
The claim that “statistics from Oregon show a year-on-year rise in the numbers availing of such a law” is wrong. In fact, Oregon Health Authority reports show that for each year from 2008 to 2013, the annual number of deaths has been: 60, 59, 65, 71, 85 and 71. He also asserts that “it is far from my purpose to deny anyone as dignified and pain-free a dying process as possible … palliative care can achieve this in the vast majority of cases”.
Palliative care can indeed, most often, adequately relieve pain, but his apparent lack of concern for those who do not secure that is regrettable. What is to become of them?
Denying the option of a dignified death to those few individuals, should they wish it, is the inevitable result of an approach which restricts choice, whatever its declared purpose might be.
Contrary to the predictions of the doomsayers, the collapse of civilisation in Oregon has not come about during the 17 years the Death with Dignity Act has been in operation there nor, intriguingly, has the act been repealed. I anticipate a similar outcome in Scotland should the Assisted Suicide Bill become law.
(Dr) Bob Scott MRCGP FRCP (Glasg)
The Rev Dr Donald M MacDonald’s latest argument against assisted dying is the so-called Werther effect, whereby reports of suicides are sometimes followed by copycat suicides.
The comparison is beside the point. Assisted dying involves a person who is already dying choosing to have the process hastened. People who commit suicide in the ordinary way are not usually dying. Further, if my choosing to have advanced the painful death that I am already undergoing did lead others to make the same choice, why would that be a bad thing?
Indeed, Rev Dr MacDonald’s argument appears to commit the classic logical fallacy of begging the question, that is to say, of assuming in advance the truth of the point that is the subject of dispute.
I thought we were discussing whether it is a bad thing that a terminally ill person in great distress should be able to chose to have their dying hastened.
Rev Dr MacDonald appears to be saying one person’s choosing this might lead to others in the same situation choosing it, which would be bad. But whether it would be bad if others in the same situation chose it is precisely the point at issue.
Perhaps he means that if someone were influenced to opt for assisted dying by my doing so, that could not be an expression of their true wishes but would represent some sort of quasi-magical overpowering of their true wishes.
But there is no reason why a decision that was influenced someone else’s example cannot be genuinely authentic.
Finally, the proposed procedures for the dying patient to indicate her or his wishes, involving repeated acts of consent separated by a period of time, are precisely designed to exclude the possibility of assisted dying being implemented as the result of a passing impulse in a moment of weakness, even if prompted by my the example.