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Quick Briefing

more: Quick Overview, Scotland, Quick Overview/Scotland, Legislation, Quick Overview/Legislation

23rd May 2014

Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill

Quick Briefing

Summary of the Bill:

  • The Bill applies to anyone over 16 and registered with a medical practice in Scotland
  • They must have an illness or progressive condition that is terminal or life shortening (no time-limit) for them, and which makes their quality of life unacceptable to them.
  • They must make a preliminary declaration and then two requests for assistance. Each request must be at least 14 days apart and endorsed by two medical practitioners
  • A person has capacity if she is not suffering from a mental disorder which might affect the request, and is capable of making, communicating, understanding and remembering a decision to make the request. There is no automatic referral to a psychiatrist
  • The act of suicide must take place within 14 days of the second request, so as to avoid deterioration in capacity. The cause of death must be the person's own deliberate act
  • Licensed facilitators will provide practical assistance before, during and after the suicide
  • A person who breaks these provisions unintentionally but not carelessly, and who was acting in good faith, will be protected from liability.

General notes:

  • A similar Bill was defeated in 2010 by 86 votes to 15
  • The Committee that assessed the 2010 Bill was not persuaded by the arguments to decriminalise assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia, and rejected the general principles of the Bill
  • The issues raised in 2010 have not been answered by the new Bill
  • The safeguards are seriously defective. There is real doubt that the assessments would be sufficient to discern that the patient is not under external pressure to request assisted suicide
  • There is no conscience clause to protect those medical professionals who do not want to take part in assisted suicide
  • There is no clear line between helping someone to kill herself, and killing her directly
  • The Bill effectively says that some lives have no objective worth, depending only on a subjective view of quality of life
  • A person's conclusion that her quality of life is unacceptable doesn't need to be reasonable, merely consistent with the facts
  • There is no attempt to define the term "life-shortening", which is a very vague phrase: people with decades left to live would be allowed to kill themselves
  • The restrictions in the Bill are a cynical attempt to get it through parliament - the policy memorandum envisages an incremental extension of the legislation: "once it has been seen to operate effectively for a number of years, there may be an opportunity for further developments in the law that would offer hope to other categories of people seeking assistance to die" (Policy Memorandum, 54)
  • Good end of life and palliative care should be our focus and priority.

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