Suicide bill is too flawed to go through

Paul Brownsey and Douglas Hall (Letters, 9 February) misrepresent the arguments of those who oppose the legalisation of assisted suicide.

Of course we are not equating voluntary assisted suicide with the activities of a Harold Shipman. Rather we are pointing out some of the dangers of giving the medical profession legal power to deliberately end a life, albeit at the request of a patient.

We do not gloat over the suffering of terminally people as Paul Brownsey seems to suggest. Rather we believe human dignity, respect and worth is best expressed through holistic palliative care.

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As the palliative care experts testified to the Health and Sport Committee, very few people persist in asking for help to end their lives once their symptoms are controlled and full support given.

Douglas Hall accuses Dr Peter Saunders’ evidence of being “emotionally hyped”. In fact, Dr Saunders’ evidence was given soberly and was backed up with statistics.

I would advise readers to read the written evidence and the official record and to watch the video of the committee meetings on the Scottish Parliament website and not rely on sensational and selective press reporting.

Proponents of assisted suicide also use emotionally charged language. Paul Brownsey speaks of “someone dying in agony”. Often the terms used are intolerable or unbearable suffering, suggesting that the main reason for asking for assisted suicide is unrelievable physical pain.

Actually the word used in the bill for quality of life is “unacceptable”, which is very wide-ranging.

Figures from Oregon show that physical pain is far down the list of reasons for requesting assisted suicide. The main reasons are loss of autonomy, followed by loss of dignity, loss of enjoyment of life and fear of being a burden on 

About a third of patients have non-malignant conditions. The statistics may well be incomplete, as there is no mechanism for checking up on the collection of records.

The Assisted Suicide Bill before the Scottish Parliament is wrong in principle. It is also so poorly drafted that the qualifying conditions are very wide and the so-called safeguards are of questionable value. It should be rejected.

(Rev Dr) Donald M MacDonald

Craiglockhart Grove


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Despite his insistence that it is to be entirely voluntary Paul Brownsey fails to acknowledge the huge collateral damage that would be caused by assisted suicide.

Once a person decides their life is unworthy, who then must agree with them and sign the necessary paperwork?

Who will prescribe the lethal drugs? (it is assumed lethal drugs will be used as the Assisted Suicide Bill is unclear about what form the “assistance” will be).

Who will be the “licensed facilitator” who has to stand by and watch someone commit suicide then report it to the relevant authorities?

What impact will the choice of this one person have on all those involved, not to mention on all their friends and family?

The main argument advanced for assisted suicide is unremitting pain. However, when we look to Oregon, the vast majority of those choosing to kill themselves are doing so for existential reasons rather than on the basis of real medical symptoms.

The Oregon data from 2013 show that those people citing “inadequate pain control or concern about it” constitute just 23.7 per cent of cases overall.

The main reasons given for taking one’s life are “loss of autonomy”, being “less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable” and “loss of dignity”.

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The fact that almost a quarter of patients dying under the act report inadequate pain control or concerns about pain also shows that palliative care provision in Oregon is unsatisfactory. Surely this is an argument for better care rather than assisted suicide.

Persistent requests for assisted suicide and euthanasia are extremely rare if people are properly cared for so our priority must be to ensure that good care addressing people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs is accessible to all.

Patients almost always change their minds about euthanasia when they experience good care. A good doctor can kill the pain without killing the patient.

Mr Brownsey, and proponents of assisted suicide in general, use emotive language and hard cases as an argument for its legalisation. Hard cases make bad law.

In a free democratic society we accept limits to our own freedom in order to safeguard the interests of vulnerable others.

The primary function of the law is to protect the vulnerable many, not grant liberties to the determined and desperate few.

They are sincere in their beliefs; but what matters here is what is good for society. The law must uphold life and protect the vulnerable.

Martin Conroy


East Lothian