Assisted suicide bill could alter ethos of medical care, BMA warns

Legalising assisted suicide would 'alter the ethos' of medical care, the BMA has warned, as Scottish parliament discussions on implementing the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill began on Tuesday.

End of life: BMA rejects assisted dying (Photo: Paul Starr)
End of life: BMA rejects assisted dying (Photo: Paul Starr)

In the coming weeks, representatives from Scotland’s top legal and medical professions will present evidence for or against the proposed bill to a board of nine Scottish MPs on the Health and Sport Committee.

Should the bill come into effect, patients with terminal or life-shortening illnesses will be able to go through a strict procedure to earn the legal right to end their own life. 

On Tuesday, those present at the hearing include the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons Glasgow, the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Scotland.

Legal bodies including the Faculty of Advocates, the Law Society of Scotland, Police Scotland and the Crown Office will also present evidence.

BMA 'opposes euthanasia'

BMA written evidence submitted ahead of the hearing reaffirmed its ‘current position’ in ‘opposing all forms of assisted suicide and euthanasia’.

BMA Scotland chairman Dr Brian Keighley wrote that the BMA 'supports the provision of high quality person-centred palliative care for those individuals facing the effects of terminal illnesses and conditions'.

He added: ‘[The BMA] is concerned that giving them a legal right to end their lives with physician assistance, even where that assistance is limited to assessment, verification and prescribing, could alter the ethos within which medical care is provided.’

The BMA is scheduled to appear before the committee on 3 February.

'Some of my patients would have preferred this option'

But retired Edinburgh GP Dr Shiona Mackie told GP that she was in favour of the bill passing. She is one of around 50 practising and retired doctors to sign their name to the My Life My Death My Choice campaign group in support of the Scottish bill.

‘We feel that patients should have the option of being able to determine when they want to die,’ she said.

‘I think there is a growing number of doctors who feel this is an option patients should be presented with. Palliative care is fantastic, but sometimes it doesn’t work and some patients don't want to go through with the loss of dignity and loss of control.

‘Some of my patients would have preferred this option. Death is the final taboo subject, but as we talk about our death and planning our death, people are coming round more to thinking about it, they want to make sure their final wishes are carried through.’

Three-stage process

Should the bill pass, patients will have to go through three stages to be allowed to end their life. To initiate proceedings, they will have to indicate that they wish to end their own life. After a seven-day period, they will then submit a formal application that must be endorsed by two medical practitioners – which could include their GP.

After a further 14 days, patients will have to reconfirm their intention, again with the support of two medical practitioners after they have reflected upon their decision and if they still wish to continue with the process.

Once this is complete, the patient will be euthanised at a licensed facility.

Discussions on Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill, the English equivalent of the Scottish bill, are scheduled to continue on Friday.

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