An assisted suicide advocate has been appointed as the sole adviser to the Holyrood committee responsible for examining a bill that would legalise assisted suicide 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.
Pro-lifers have expressed alarm over Alison Britton’s appointment as adviser to the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill Committee.
And Gordon MacDonald, Public Policy Officer for the pro-life group Care Not Killing Scotland, has written to Ross Finnie MSP, the committee’s chairman, expressing his concern.
He said: “Alison Britton co-authored with Prof Sheila McLean, a book entitled The Case For Physician Assisted Suicide and a report titled Sometimes a Small Victory”.
He added: “In both these publications they advocate the legalisation of assisted suicide and prioritise patient autonomy over other factors. Moreover, their original research was sponsored by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society for Scotland.”
However, Mr Finnie has defended the appointment, saying: “The committee is confident that Ms Britton is in a position to provide impartial advice.”
Assisted suicide is currently illegal in Scotland and anyone involved in assisting suicide may be charged with culpable homicide.
The controversial Bill has been criticised by the British Medical Association, the Roman Catholic Church, pro-life groups, and MSPs.
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”, he said.
His concerns were echoed by the Roman Catholic Church which has vowed to challenge any attempt to legalise assisted suicide in the courts.
A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church said that the legislation “would cross a moral boundary that no society should ever breach”.
He added: “It would completely invert and threaten the relationship between patient and doctor and undermine the role of medicine in society.”
Dr Peter Saunders, Director of Care Not Killing, warned that the Bill would have a devastating effect on both the terminally ill and disabled people.
And in January a BBC Scotland survey discovered that most MSPs were opposed to the Bill’s plans to allow terminally ill people to seek assistance in ending their lives.
The survey, which covered two thirds of MSPs, revealed that 53 MSPs were against the Bill, 17 were in favour of it while 20 were still undecided.