LEGISLATION INVOLVING THE SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE POSES TROUBLESOME MORAL DILEMMAS

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Michael Hamilton,
KELSO

Margot MacDonald, Independent MSP for Lothian, introduced the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill 2010 in the Scottish Parliament on 20 January 2010.

Michael Hamilton,
KELSO

Margot MacDonald, Independent MSP for Lothian, introduced the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill 2010 in the Scottish Parliament on 20 January 2010.

The Bill provides that people who feel that their lives have become intolerable through terminal illness or a degenerative condition should be permitted to ask for assistance to end their life, subject to a range of safeguards.  It embodies respect for the right of people to be sympathetically and professionally assisted to end a life that has become intolerable to them.

In July 2008, Margot worked with BBC Scotland in making a documentary about Assisted Dying. As a Parkinson’s sufferer with a mild form of the disease diagnosed in 1998, Margot has been a long time campaigner for Assisted Dying, saying “As someone with a degenerative condition – Parkinson’s – this debate is not a theory with me. The possibility of having the worst form of the disease at the end of life has made me think about unpleasant things. I feel strongly that, in the event of losing my dignity or being faced with the prospect of a painful or protracted death, I should have the right to choose to curtail my own, and my family’s, suffering.”

She travelled around Scotland meeting with fellow sufferers and investigating the pros and cons of Assisted Dying. “I know of people with terminal illnesses who have made the awful trip to Mexico to buy lethal doses of drugs to take their own lives, all because of our current laws. I am in no doubt that our legal system must change.”

There are no figures for how many people would be likely to seek an assisted death if the Bill were to be enacted. During 2007 in Scotland, 5171 people committed suicide while in the case of a further 3212, the case was undetermined as to whether they had actively taken their own lives. This does not provide any indication of how many would have sought an assisted death if it had been available. But it is possible that many of these people might not have committed suicide if they had been able to seek an assisted death and had the opportunity to discuss their situation and a range of possible options with a registered medical practitioner as required under the provisions of the Bill.

To ascertain what the demand might be in Scotland, figures from other countries where assisted dying has been legalised have been obtained. In total 363,758 people died in Oregon in an 11 year period with assisted deaths representing 0.001% of all deaths. Washington State legalised assisted dying at the end of 2008: six people have been prescribed the necessary medication and to date only one has taken up the option.

In the two years that assisted dying has been available in the Australian Northern Territories, only four people have sought an assisted death. It seems clear that very few people might seek end of life assistance in Scotland: it is thought that there might be 55 assisted deaths each year.

The Abortion Act passed in 1967 has had a different uptake. In 2004, there were 185,415 abortions in England and Wales. The overwhelming majority of abortions (95% in 2004 for England and Wales) were certified under the statutory ground of risk of injury to the mental or physical health of the pregnant woman.

One can only pray that those whom we have elected will find a way forward on end of life assistance that will not undermine Christian morality on anything like such a scale.