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by Tom Freeman
29 May 2015
Assisted suicide rejected amid high emotions

Assisted suicide rejected amid high emotions

The Scottish Parliament delivered a decisive blow to the late Margo MacDonald’s Assisted Suicide bill on Wednesday, voting it down 82 to 36 at stage one. Only 26 per cent of MSPs believed the bill deserved further scrutiny and amendment, a figure lower than I had predicted.

Greens MSP Patrick Harvie, who had taken on the bill after MacDonald’s death last year, said he was disappointed but hoped the Government would recognise wider support outside the chamber for the notion of giving people facing life-shortening conditions control over the end of their life.

“I know many supporters of assisted suicide will now be hoping that the Lord Advocate issues prosecution guidance and that the Scottish Government considers alternative approaches to the problem," he said.


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George Adam, SNP, said his wife Stacey, who has MS, had discussed assisted suicide with him.

“No one knows how we would deal with the situation ourselves, should that day come. I do not even know whether I could go through with Stacey’s wishes—I do not know whether I would want to go down that route or whether I would be able to let go at that point. I do not know what my emotional state would be at that time. Is that not the point? Is the debate not about choice and the ability to have the option, should the individual choose it?” he asked.

There were emotional speeches against the bill though.

Labour’s Siobhan McMahon spoke passionately about her own ‘life-shortening’ condition and how she defied her own prognosis.

“I believe that, if passed, the bill would reinforce the concept that my life and those of others with life-shortening conditions are not worth living and are not of the same value as those without those conditions. That is a societal perception that I have come across throughout my life and it is one that I am constantly challenging. I believe that passing this bill would give that notion credence. I further believe that it reinforces the stereotype that disabled people are a burden and do not contribute to society,” she said, pointing out there are no disability organisations in support of the bill.

Dennis Robertson told how his mother had been given “a few weeks” to live but had carried on for months. She had asked “let me go” but this was because she thought she was a burden, not the pain, he said.

“I also remember my daughter. We have talked about coercion today. Coercion did happen in respect of my daughter, and it was from me. She wanted to die. She said on several occasions, “Let me die—I can’t live with this illness. You need to help me die. Please help me die.” I did not. I held her. I held her in my arms and gave her what we in the north-east call a bosie, and I said no, I could not do that. I loved her too much, and I wanted her to live.

I did not want my daughter to live in agony, with suffering. I wanted her to get well, and to see a way through her illness. That is where I come to a dilemma. Should we embrace life to the full? Should we embrace it to the point at which our love overcomes the pain and the suffering? It is very difficult,” said Robertson.

Although it might be thought personal emotions shouldn’t dictate legislation, it seems on this issue it is unavoidable. For Labour’s Neil Findlay, “Assisted suicide is without doubt the most difficult issue that I have had to consider in 12 years as an elected politician. So it should be, because it is about life and death itself.”

His conclusion, “My head tells me to support the bill, but my heart and soul, and my personal experiences, tell me not to support it. Whichever way I vote—whichever way we vote tonight—a lot of caring, compassionate, good people will be disappointed”, summarises the occasion.  

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