A bill which would legalise assisted suicide in Scotland contains “significant flaws”, according to a report by a parliamentary committee. Although most of the committee opposes the principle of the bill, they have decided to allow it to pass to the whole Scottish Parliament for a final decision.

The bill was introduced by former MSP Margo MacDonald, a doughty campaigner for assisted suicide who sponsored a similar bill in 2009. She died in April 2014, but the bill was taken forward by another MSP.

The language of the committee’s report is restrained but tough.

Compassion: “there are other ways of showing solidarity and compassion with those suffering distress, short of helping them to commit suicide.”

Respect for autonomy: “the principle of respect for autonomy is a qualified principle which is usually limited by the rights of others, by public safety considerations, and by the need to consider other principles and values.”

Withdrawal of life-saving treatment: “there are, therefore, a number of relevant legal and ethical differences between assisted suicide on the one hand and the refusal of life-sustaining treatment on the other. The fact that the law accepts the latter need have no bearing on the attitude it adopts toward the former.”

Terminology: “the Bill does not distinguish adequately between ―assisted suicide and ―euthanasia. The Committee appreciates that, for some, this gives rise to concern that because it does not define either term, the Bill does not specify precisely which actions it intends to shield from liability.”

Terminal, life-shortening and unacceptable: “the Bill’s failure to define these key terms leaves far too many people potentially eligible to receive assistance.”

Uncertainty: “the language of the Bill would introduce much uncertainty. In the context of a statute that makes an exception to the law of homicide and permits one person to assist in the death of another, such significant uncertainty must be unacceptable.”

Coercion: “there is no way to guarantee the absence of coercion in the context of assisted suicide.”

Suicide prevention: “There appears to be a contradiction between a policy objective of preventing suicide, on the one hand, and on the other, legislation which would provide for some suicides to be assisted and facilitated.” 

A key element of the bill is the creation of a rather creepy profession: the licensed assisted suicide facilitator. This person need not be a doctor. He would gather the lethal medications, do the paperwork, and even film the death as a record. The committee found a number of serious flaws in the job description, among them the possibility of 16-year-old facilitators.  

Euthanasia or assisted suicide have been legalized in only four European countries and three American states. But many bills promoting it have failed in other jurisdictions. When it is subjected to strict scrutiny by cautious lawyers, it nearly always fails. Its potential for abuse is just too great.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. 

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.