Doctors urge Scottish Parliament to reject assisted suicide legislation

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Dozens of junior doctors have written to MSPs urging them to vote against legalising assisted suicide in Scotland.

The doctors have said they will refuse to participate in assisted suicides if the law is changed.

The legalisation of assisted suicide has been proposed in a Bill introduced to the Scottish Parliament by Lib Dem MSP Liam MacArthur. 

Christopher Marshall, a 24-year-old palliative care worker at Borders General Hospital, and Ed Tulloch, a 30-year-old trainee GP in Fife, have co-authored a letter of opposition that has been signed by over 30 other junior medics. 

"As junior doctors in Scotland, we oppose any form of legislation which seeks to promote assisted suicide and will not participate if it becomes legal," they say. 

The letter states that the focus of medical care should be "the value of human life" and warns doctors "not to use our position for harm". 

They say that the legalisation of assisted suicide will "strain relationships" between patients and doctors, as well as their loved ones and caregivers. 

It cites research from the US state of Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, which found that 59 per cent of people who chose to end their lives in this way mentioned fear of being a burden to others as a factor in their decision. 

"Legalising assisted suicide will undoubtedly place untold pressure on people who are vulnerable, disabled or elderly to end their lives prematurely. Some may even feel it is their 'duty to die'. These are the people we have gone to such lengths to protect and support during the pandemic," the doctors said. 

"The implication of assisting suicide is that some human life is not worth continuing and would better cut short. This is a dangerous precedent.

"Where do we draw the line? What does that say about us as a society when we encourage one to end life prematurely?" 

The letter goes on to say that doctors should strive to build and maintain trust with patients, and promote a "good" death that seeks to "manage symptoms rather than legalising a 'treatment option' that devalues the very life it seeks to end".

"We believe that modern palliative medicine in conjunction with healthy trusting relationships are sufficient to bring dignity in dying," it reads.

"Rather than focusing on ending life, we want to ensure that the last moments of one's life are meaningful, holistic and relational.

"We would urge all Members of the Scottish Parliament to vote against proposals to legalise assisted suicide. Let's protect those who need us most."

The doctors are backed by the Care Not Killing (CNK) Alliance which is spearheading opposition to the Bill, and Our Duty of Care (ODOC), a group of medical professionals who have spoken out against the Bill.

ODOC's Dr Gillian Wright said: "Junior doctors across Scotland are concerned about the future of care for frail elderly, disabled and confused patients in our country.

"These are the patients they look after: A & E departments, medical and care of the elderly wards, general practice and psychiatry.

"They want to send the message that these patients' lives are valuable, their rights should be protected and there should not be pressure on anyone, from anyone, including indirectly by the state, to take their own lives."

CNK chief executive Dr Gordon Macdonald welcomed the intervention.

"There is not enough focus by MSPs on the impact of legalising assisted suicide on the NHS and the provision of healthcare more generally," he said.

"Many doctors and nurses simply won't want to practise medicine or nursing and will move to England or Northern Ireland if assisted suicide is legalised in Scotland. Older doctors will just opt to retire and won't be replaced." 

He warned that this would exacerbate the existing recruitment crisis in General Practice across Scotland.

"We are already seeing the impact of staff shortages on wider healthcare services in Scotland within the context of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, especially in intensive care and respiratory medicine," he said. 

"That will get much worse if assisted suicide is legalised and people won't be able to access health services as a result.

"Cancer and other serious illnesses will go undiagnosed, or late diagnosed, and potentially untreated with some people losing their lives as a result."