Free choices

Christine Jardine (Perspective, 23 April) writes that supporting Margo MacDonald’s bill on 
assisted suicide is about freedom of choice, that society has no right to deny certain individuals any assistance they may need to end their lives. But although freedom of choice is very important in a society it must sometimes be constrained when actions have serious repercussions on other people.

If the worth and value of a person’s life was only decided by the individual in question it would mean those who are deeply depressed would have lives of very low value and worth while those who are proud or self-important would see their lives as being superior.

But Scottish society does not accept this way of reasoning.
Instead, a civilised society believes every person’s life has the same very high value and worth.

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This is also the reason why it is impossible for someone to sell themselves into slavery to pay off the debts of his or her family, no matter how much they would want the freedom of choice to do so.

In short, a civilised society must sometimes constrain the freedom of its members if it wants to protect the very basis of its civilisation which is the equal, immeasurable and inherent value and worth of all its 
members without exception.

(Prof) Calum 

Director of research

Scottish Council on Human Bioethics


Christine Jardine believes the debate on assisted suicide over the past two years has created a greater awareness of the issue.

I wonder what she thinks 
happened when Margo MacDonald’s first bill was debated, at Holyrood in December 2010.

The nation was made totally aware of the issue. There was a specially convened parliamentary committee to scrutinise the proposed bill and ample opportunity for the public to make their views known. The public made it clear, and MSPs decided overwhelmingly that they did not want assisted suicide.

What we need to be aware of is that in any country where 
assisted suicide has been legalised the safeguards initially introduced are gradually breached.

It is generally accepted that in Netherlands and Belgium, where assisted suicide is legal, many deaths by assisted suicide are not reported to the authorities. You need not have a terminal illness in Belgium to be granted the right to end your life.

In Oregon, held up by those in favour of assisted suicide as a model of good practice, only 2 per cent of those patients who died by assisted suicide in 2012 were referred for psychiatric 
assessment. Previous studies have shown that around 25 per cent of Oregon patients requesting assisted suicide are likely to be suffering from depression or anxiety.

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The only awareness we need in relation to assisted suicide is that wherever it has been legalised it inevitably leads to more and more people becoming 
eligible to end their lives prematurely. The slippery slope is real.

William Baird