Young and old at risk from ‘naïve’ assisted suicide plans

Tue, 27 Jan 2015

Members of the Scottish Parliament have been warned that legalising assisted suicide would make terminally ill young people feel like an “unburdenable load” on their families.

A committee of MSPs has also been told that elderly patients could be encouraged to kill themselves to avoid costly care bills if the plans are brought in.

Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee has been hearing evidence from academics, health care professionals and ethicists as the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill is brought forward by Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

Compelled to die

The committee is due to hear from Dr Pat Carragher, the Medical Director of the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS).

Over the last 18 years, CHAS has overseen the treatment of thousands of youngsters who are terminally ill.

Carragher has cautioned that a change in the law would mean teenagers who have an incurable condition might feel compelled to end their own lives in order to help their families.

‘Unburdenable load’

He said that a teenager “might think they were an unburdenable load to their family”.

According to Carragher, this means “a young person might ask for assisted suicide for reasons that have nothing to do with an actual desire to die”.

Dr Carragher added: “At no time has any young person or their parent advised me that they were seeking an assisted suicide.”

‘Dangerously naïve’

The vulnerability of the elderly under the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill was stressed last week as experts labelled it “dangerously naïve”.

Dr Stephen Hutchison, a consultant physician in palliative medicine, said that: “In the UK, elder abuse affects over half a million people, with the perpetrators commonly being friends or family.

“In the face of chronic illness and dependence, and the prospect of expensive care eroding the family’s inheritance, the availability of assisted suicide could create further risk to the frail and elderly and expose them to unhealthy societal and internal pressures.”

‘Slippery slope’

Dr Hutchison warned that there is international evidence for a “slippery slope” which occurs when assisted suicide is legalised.

He continued: “The relaxation of criteria and disregard for the law as seen elsewhere is almost certain to be replicated here if assisted suicide was to be legalised. To argue otherwise is dangerously naïve.”

Calum MacKellar, of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, also warned of the dangers of legalising assisted suicide.

‘Human dignity’

He argued that when a society starts to say that certain persons may no longer have value and meaning in life, it “undermines the whole concept of inherent human dignity”.

The Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill is now being led by Patrick Harvie, following the death of Margo MacDonald.

It seeks to allow patients as young as 16 to end their lives, even if they are not terminally ill.