Scotland’s health secretary, Nicola Sturgeon, has indicated that the Government will not back attempts to change the law on assisted suicide.
Speaking after MSP Margo MacDonald said she would launch an attempt to make the practice legal in Scotland, Miss Sturgeon said she was “not persuaded” that the law should be changed.
She told the BBC that the system could be abused, and says she is “not convinced we could put in place sufficient safeguards”.
There are fears that legalising assisted suicide would destroy patient trust and put vulnerable people under real or imagined pressure to end their lives if they felt they had become a burden.
South of the border, Lord Joffe has said he will make a renewed bid to change the law after failing to do so in 2006.
Both attempts have been prompted by a High Court decision in the case of Debbie Purdy last month.
Two judges ruled that to say whether or not Miss Purdy’s husband would be prosecuted for helping her travel to a Swiss suicide clinic to end her life would require a change in the law.
The Director of Public Prosecutions recently said that although the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has not prosecuted anyone who accompanied a relative to the Dignitas clinic, there were “arguments on both sides”.
“The danger always is that vulnerable people are encouraged to do something they would otherwise not do,” he cautioned.
“A different life”
The Times recently reported the story of Matt Hampson, a former rugby player who was paralysed from the neck down during training and now requires a ventilator to breathe.
With the help of carers and a custom-built house, he has been able to set up a website, is writing an autobiography and is the patron of a charity for disabled children called Special Effects.
He says: “I don’t live a bad life, I live a different life. I use my brain more than my brawn now. It has helped me become a more rounded person. I think about things more.
“I’ve had to grow up quite a bit and do things that most 23-year-olds don’t do.”
“I’m grateful I wasn’t allowed to end it all!”
Alison Davis is National Co-ordinator of No Less Human.
She was born with severe spina bifida, and is dependent on a wheelchair. She is often in extreme pain for hours at a time. She says that for many years she wanted to “end it all”.
“If euthanasia had been legal, I would certainly have requested it and I wouldn’t be here now,” she says.
But after several serious suicide attempts, blocked by the intervention of Alison’s friends, she began to change her mind.
Alison met the disabled children she had been sponsoring through a charity. The experience led her to think, for the first time in over ten years, “I think I want to live”.
She says: “I’ll always be grateful to the friends who saved my life (though I wasn’t at the time). And I’m especially thankful there was no possibility of persuading my doctors to legally help me die.”
She believes that disabled people “deserve the same kind of help routinely given to those who do not have a physical condition but who feel suicidal”.
“You just don’t know what will happen”
In his book Against Physician Assisted Suicide, palliative care specialist Dr David Jeffrey tells the story of a former army instructor who was being treated for terminal cancer and was determined to commit suicide.
After a discussion with the doctor, it emerged that he was missing the Army, and was subsequently taken to watch a passing-out parade of young recruits, where a party had been arranged in his honour.
“His life was transformed,” Dr Jeffrey said. “He had a purpose and his demeanour completely changed. He died two weeks later, comfortably. People’s lives always have that potential. Even in the midst of suffering there can be change.
“You just don’t know what will happen.”