Assisted suicide: Covid pandemic should be a reminder that premature death is always unwelcome – Michael Veitch

After the recent Scottish elections, there appears to be a near-universal consensus that it is only a matter of time before there is a renewed attempt to introduce physician-assisted suicide to Scotland.

Those who are most vulnerable need the greatest protection, says Michael Veitch (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A previous attempt led by the late Margo MacDonald, and more recently by current co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party, Patrick Harvie, failed to come to fruition, however proponents of assisted suicide have made no secret of their desire to bring forward a new Bill.

It is of interest that any such attempt will take place beneath the dark shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the innumerable traumas of coronavirus has been the way in which it has brought society face to face with death.

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Who can forget the ghastly and sudden increase in the daily death toll during those early months of the crisis, as we slowly came to terms with the horrifying fact that the UK was on track to have one of the highest per capita Covid death rates in the world.

Such a scenario, had it been foreseen, would have plunged the nation into fear and despair, and this is exactly what came to pass, with countless families affected by the premature loss of a loved one.

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It is against this backdrop that the successful vaccine trials were welcomed with such jubilation and relief. It was hoped (as has thankfully transpired) that this would finally help reverse the grim and growing Covid death toll.

This has been achieved by commencing the vaccination roll-out among those known to be at greatest risk of death or serious illness, namely the very elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

The Scottish and UK governments both deserve hearty commendation for this approach, which few, if any, have queried. Much as death from Covid, or any cause, is viewed as something to be avoided where possible, so it follows that vaccination must sensibly begin with those at greatest risk.

What, if anything, does this have to do with future attempts to introduce assisted suicide in Scotland? Quite a lot, for the national response to Covid has underlined that as a society we rightly view untimely death as an unwelcome intruder to be fought off with whatever weapons we have at our disposal and, significantly, that those most at risk are rightly top of the priority list.

Any suggestion that those already near the end of their lives or battling serious illness should be deemed in some way less worthy of vaccination than others would have been rightly rejected as an outrage.

Yet the idea that those very same people – the chronically ill and elderly – be permitted to end their lives, surely rests upon the implicit assumption that their lives are in some way less deserving of society’s absolute protection than others.

None of this is to dispute that this is an area requiring the utmost empathy and compassion towards sufferers and their loved ones.

However, as Covid has served to remind us, premature death is always an unwelcome intruder, and it is those who are most physically vulnerable who require the greatest and most immediate protection. Such an assumption should equally underpin our approach to policy discussions around end-of-life issues and palliative care.

Michael Veitch is parliamentary officer for the charity CARE for Scotland

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