Leaders: Compassion key in assisted suicide debate

FEW proposed pieces of legislation have come under as much intense scrutiny as the measures currently before MSPs on assisted suicide.

An anti-assisted dying protest greet MSPs at the Scottish Parliament back in January. Picture: Gordon Fraser
An anti-assisted dying protest greet MSPs at the Scottish Parliament back in January. Picture: Gordon Fraser

Not only have views across various shades of opinion in this country been thoroughly canvassed, practical evidence from overseas – from Holland and the US state of Oregon, for example – has informed and illuminated the debate.

The Holyrood committee ­examining the issue is critical of the proposed legislation as it stands, reflecting to some extent the ­concerns of many opponents of the measure.

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This is an extremely polarised debate. On one side there are the Christian campaigners who believe suicide can never be morally justified – that it can never be a rational choice; that it is always wrong; that it is a sin.

On the other are those who accept that extreme circumstances it can be an acceptable and ­rational choice.

The difficulty arises in establishing the physical and mental state of the person making that choice, and establishing they are in a position to make it in a way that is unclouded, unhindered and uncoerced.

There is little doubt that when some people are suffering from a terminal illness, and their quality of life is poor, and their condition has deteriorated to such an ­extent that they are physically ­incapable of acting on a wish to end their own life, the compassionate thing to do would be to help them exercise their choice on whether to carry on living. The alternative is too cruel to contemplate.

Our judgement, therefore, is that there will be occasions when assisted suicide is the humane course of action.

The question remains, what checks and balances need to be in place before a system is deemed sufficiently robust to allow this to happen?

MSPs on the Holyrood committee examining this issue are clearly unhappy with the ­safeguards as currently laid out. Deputy convenor Bob Doris said yesterday: “Whilst we recognised the complex moral and legal issues that arose during our detailed scrutiny, it was important that we listened, debated and heard the many passionate voices on both sides of the debate.

“However, the Committee agreed that the Bill will need significant amendment should it progress through the parliamentary scrutiny process.”

They are right to be cautious. Not much in politics is a question of life and death. This falls firmly into that category.

But the difficulties highlighted by the committee should not be used as an excuse to bring Holyrood’s consideration of assisted suicide to a close.

Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of a just and caring society to allow sentient individuals in terrible circumstances the rational decision to ask for help in bringing their lives to a dignified end – a good death denied to them by their declining physical state.

Square deal is great for Edinburgh

In Charlotte Square, in a quiet part of the day, if you half-close your eyes and tune out the traffic it is easy to imagine what it must have been like to live in Georgian Edinburgh.

The neo-classical proportions of the Adam buildings and the elegant layout of the square – thanks to the planning genius of James Craig – mean it is one of the architectural gems of Scotland’s capital city.

But at its centre it is lifeless. The square of grass, with the equestrian statue of Prince Albert at its centre, is usually locked to the public and only used once a year for the book festival. During these few days it becomes a pleasurable oasis in the heart of the city’s West End, with many visitors wondering why it cannot be put to good public use at other times of the year.

Why indeed?

So the news that Charlotte Square is to have £1 million spent on it to make it more usable for events at other times of the year is most welcome. St Andrew Square, its mirror image at the other end of George Street, goes out of its way to be a public space, with its walkways, pools, benches and tastefully designed coffee shop. As such it contributes greatly to the vibrancy of that corner of the city in a way that could easily be replicated at the west end.

Any opening up of Charlotte Square needs to be done carefully to ensure it is appropriate for a space that has been preserved with such care over centuries.

But as a place to linger on a summer’s day, with a book or a lunchtime sandwich, enjoying the calm feeling of order that good architecture can provide, it promises to be a superb addition to the delights of the New Town in particular, and Edinburgh in general.