Assisted suicide poses risk to vulnerable, says senior doctor

Legalising assisted suicide would put immense pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives, according to a consultant physician in palliative medicine.

Dr Stephen Hutchison wrote in a piece for The Herald newspaper that assisted suicide has been “consistently rejected” by the Scottish Parliament because it is unsafe.

He said: “The duty of government is to protect its citizens”.


He added: “When you are facing an incurable illness, or the prospect of suffering, or the costs of care are eating into your family’s inheritance, and you feel vulnerable and scared, just how little pressure would be needed to make you choose assisted suicide, particularly if you are elderly and frail or feel that you are a burden?”

He said: “There is evidence of risk to the vulnerable where assisted suicide is practised.”

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald proposed the legalisation of assisted suicide in 2010, but reports showed that 87 per cent of the public were opposed to the plans and it was roundly defeated by the Scottish Parliament.


Dr Hutchison criticised the way that “being a burden to others” is used as a reason for assisted suicide, saying it is “irresponsible for politicians to peddle autonomy as the basis for any law, let alone something cataclysmic like this”.

He said: “Where there is suffering we need to research and refine care to relieve it, not hasten death.”

In Belgium where euthanasia was legalised in 2002, cases have risen by over 4000 per cent and politicians in the country are considering extending the law to children.


Dr Hutchison highlights the “slippery slope” caused by a change in the law.

He asks, “how about the steady increase in people who die this way? How about progressive relaxation of diagnostic criteria? How about institutional disregard for initial restraints intended to promote safety? How about the killing of hundreds of patients every year without consent?”

He also warned against the “subtle anaesthetising of our own moral principles” so that we think the right thing to do is to kill people.

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