The majority of doctors are steadfastly opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide in Scotland, the British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland has warned.
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.
BMA Scotland’s stark warning was revealed as a Holyrood committee began to hear evidence on the controversial Bill from professional organisations.
In a newly released written submission Helen Reilley, Public Affairs Officer at BMA Scotland, cautioned: “Whilst there is a wide range of views among doctors, the BMA is clear that the majority oppose a change in the law and the Association has established policy that the law should not be changed to permit assisted suicide.
“The BMA recognises the importance of patient autonomy. Nevertheless, the Association fears that in the case of assisted suicide, the potential benefits for some are only achievable at a risk and cost for others.”
BMA Scotland’s submission also called for more to be done to take care of the terminally ill, saying: “We need to be far better at providing supportive physical and psychological care to help people with terminal illness.
“The priority must be to help them manage their final days well and with support rather than establishing procedures to hasten their death.”
The committee also heard evidence from a number of other organisations including the Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland and the Scottish Division of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
The Holyrood committee is also due to hear evidence on the Bill from Scotland’s religious leaders tomorrow.
In newly released written evidence the Free Church of Scotland warned that letting someone end their own life would be “extreme individualism”.
Rev Dr Malcolm Maclean, of the Church’s Communications Committee, cautioned that any relaxation of the current law would lessen people’s willingness to care for the sick and fundamentally alter the doctor-patient relationship.
The Church of Scotland, Salvation Army and Methodist Church made a joint submission cautioning that they fundamentally disagree with the Bill which would breach “the societal prohibition in the taking of human life”.
And the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, in its own submission, cautioned that any relaxation in the law could be abused.
Assisted suicide is currently illegal in Scotland and anyone involved in assisting suicide may be charged with culpable homicide.
In July a leading doctor warned that legalising assisted suicide would betray “Scottish values” for the benefit of a vocal few.
Dr Rosemary Barrett, Director of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, said: “The Bill is designed for people who believe their existence is ‘intolerable’. However, the truth is that Scotland offers excellent care for people suffering from extraordinary pain.
“Our palliative care services are capable of more than adequately managing physical pain. With such advanced medical services available, no person needs to experience ‘intolerable’ pain.”
In June a Holyrood consultation revealed that many Scots remain steadfastly opposed to it.
The consultation revealed that 86 per cent of respondents, some 601 people and organisations, were opposed to the Bill.
And in April, 16 palliative care specialists attacked the Bill in an open letter to The Times newspaper.
In the letter the medics warned that the 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.”
The medics also cautioned that “the proposed Bill may put pressure on some vulnerable people to make a choice they do not wish to make.”