A leading group of Scottish healthcare professionals has attacked a Bill that would legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in Scotland.
The End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, proposed by Margo MacDonald MSP, would allow the terminally ill and people who are “permanently physically incapacitated” to seek assistance in ending their lives.
But in an open letter to The Times newspaper 16 palliative care specialists have warned that the Bill could have a devastating effect on some of the most vulnerable members of society.
In the letter the medics warn that the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill “sends a message to all disabled people and terminally-ill patients that somehow because they are dependent on others they are of less value to our society and so may feel that they ought to choose to bring forward the time of their death.”
They also caution that “the proposed Bill may put pressure on some vulnerable people to make a choice they do not wish to make.”
But in response Margo MacDonald attempted to deny that the Bill would legalise euthanasia, and refuted allegations that it would send a negative message to the disabled.
She said: “The Bill and its motivation rests on respect for the ability of those with a progressive, irreversible condition and/or terminal illness to decide whether or not their lives have become intolerable and whether or not they would prefer to seek assistance to end their own lives.”
However, the palliative care specialists also warned that the Bill didn’t recognise the complexity of end of life care.
They warned that “patients often change their minds about wanting to end their lives once they receive palliative care and their fears concerning suffering are addressed”.
Assisted suicide is currently illegal in Scotland and anyone involved in assisting suicide may be charged with culpable homicide.
The British Medical Association, the Roman Catholic church and pro-life groups have previously expressed their opposition to the Bill.
Dr Brian Keighley, Chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: “If doctors are authorised, by law, to kill or help kill they are taking on an additional role which we believe is alien to the one of care giver and healer.
“The traditional doctor-patient relationship is founded on trust and this risks being impaired if the doctor’s role encompasses any form of intentional killing.”
A spokesman for the Roman Catholic church cautioned that the legislation “would cross a moral boundary that no society should ever breach”.
And Dr Peter Saunders, Director of the anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing, warned that the Bill would have a devastating effect on both the terminally ill and disabled people.