Patrick Harvie: Assisted suicide would end intolerable suffering and uncertainty


Evidence on legalising assisted suicide presented to Scottish Parliament Health Committee

ASSISTED suicide would give those with terminal illness or those living with intolerable suffering dignity in death, according to evidence presented to the Scottish Parliament by Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

Making the case for the Assisted Suicide Bill to the Health and Sport Committee, Harvie argued that patients should have the right to end their lives in certain circumstances.

The bill – which was originally proposed by the late Margo MacDonald MSP – faced opposition from some health professional representatives at a previous evidence hearing.

Harvie, when speaking of those who want an assisted suicide, said: “Do we leave people having to go to the court and asking, asking, asking time and time again for some degree of clarity, for some change in the law. Or do we leave them simply in a position where those who are wealthy enough or who have enough support around them to make the trip to another jurisdiction where [assisted suicide] is legal? Or should parliament make a decision?

“I think it’s pretty clear that we have a situation where, yes, there are concerns around issues like coercion, there may be differences of opinion around what the level of eligibility should be.

“But it seems to me there is an overwhelming public mood – as shown from consistent opinion polling over many years – that people who take an action in the best of intentions, an act of compassion to end the suffering of a loved one, at their own request, at their own instigation – I think there’s a clear public appetite that people in that situation should not be prosecuted, sentenced or imprisoned.”

The evidence was questioned by Bob Doris, MSP for Glasgow, who raised concerns over what illnesses would be considered ‘life shortening’ and how decisions would be made.

Mike MacKenzie MSP said suicide remains a cultural taboo in Scotland and therefore it was difficult to consider the debate from a ‘neutral’ perspective. Even some of the legal evidence presented to the committee was “not as rational as it ought to be”, according to MacKenzie.

Harvie insisted that parliament had a responsibility to “make it clear that there is a legal option, which will be well regulated, which will be defined, which will be monitored and supervised to make that decision [to end your own life] in a supported context.”

The Humanist Society Scotland held a gathering outside of parliament in support of the proposals, saying that assisted suicide would allow “compassion, dignity and choice” for those with intolerable ill health.

Opponents of the legislation include religious leaders and campaign group Care Not Killing, which says that legalising assisted suicide would be “unnecessary, unethical and uncontrollable”.

Margo MacDonald’s End of Life Assistance Bill, which proposed assisted suicide, was rejected in December 2010 by 85 votes to 16 in a free vote of the Scottish Parliament.

The Health and Sport Committee will consider the evidence presented to it before deciding whether the bill can progress to the Scottish Parliament.

Picture courtesy of Pollobarba