Call for views on assisted suicide by Parliamentary Committee

Date: 14th March 2014
Category: Disability, Basic Health and Welfare

A call for views on the legalisation of assisted suicide has been published by the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee.

This call for views comes as the parliamentary scrutiny process begins for the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill.

The Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 13th November 2013 and the Health and Sport Committee is likely to start taking oral evidence on the Bill in November 2014.

The proposed legislation would provide a means for certain people with a terminal or life-shortening illness to seek assistance to end their lives at a time of their own choosing. It would provide protection against criminal and civil liability for those providing such assistance.


Convener of the Committee, Duncan McNeil MSP, said: "This is an issue that has polarised public opinion and there are clearly strong views on both sides of the debate. There is no doubt that legalising assisted suicide would be a monumental change in how we treat people with a terminal illness at the end of their lives and there are a number of moral and ethical issues that need to be explored as part of this debate."

Deputy Convener of the Committee, Bob Doris MSP, has stated that the Committee would like to hear from as wide a range of people as possible - from GPs, pharmacists and the wider medical profession, to the third sector, police and legal profession.

The Committee is asking for views on a number of questions, including the following:

"Are you satisfied with the eligibility requirements as regards age, capacity, and connection with Scotland as set out in the Bill?"


Experience in Belgium

In February 2014, Belgium became the first country in the world to allow euthanasia to children under the age of 18. One of the primary aspects of Belgium's euthanasia law is that maturity - rather than age - is given consideration in evaluating if a patient has the capacity and discernment to make the decision to die.

By removing any reference to age in Belgium's euthanasia law, it recognises that children are entitled to be actively involved in their own health care from the earliest possible age. This is in line with Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which recognises the value of a child's views and the need to give them weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

Article 5 of the Convention also acknowledges children's evolving capacities and parents' responsibility to provide guidance to a child in the exercise of his or her rights as enshrined in the Convention.

For children who have the capacity to make decisions about their care, the respect for their views may be determinative of how they ought to be treated. These approaches are sanctioned by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in its General Comment Number 4 on adolescent health and development and General Comment Number 12 on the child's right to be heard.