Doctors sound concern about assisted suicide proposals in Scotland

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Doctors in Scotland are speaking out against proposals to legalise assisted suicide. 

Concerns have been raised as the Scottish Parliament prepares to consider legislation to change the law that has been brought forward by Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur.

Scottish A&E consultant Dr Calvin Lightbody told The Sunday Post that there needs to be more honesty about the reality of assisted suicide.

“I think we have to spell out the truth that not everyone opting for assisted dying slips away quietly,” he said. 

“Around 10 per cent will suffer seizures, vomiting, prolonged dying or other complications in the process.” 

He expressed concerns about a lack of opt-out provision for doctors who cannot provide assisted suicide on grounds of conscence, and said he feared that legalising assisted suicide “will also destroy trust patients have in their doctors”. 

He wants to see the expansion of palliative care provision in the NHS instead. 

Respiratory physician Dr Robin Taylor, who is based in west Scotland, said there were “good reasons” why assisted suicide has not been legalised to date. 

“I have been asked eight to 10 times by patients to end their lives after diagnosing a terminal illness,” he said. 

“But the Hippocratic oath of more than 2,400 years old still stands. It obliges me neither to kill my patients nor even discuss killing them. There are good reasons for boundaries.

“If we open the door to assisted suicide, it will profoundly affect the NHS and the challenges of medical practice will increase hugely if assisted dying is considered a treatment option.

“We are already struggling with staff retention because of the current pressures.” 

He warned of a “slippery slope” in other countries where assisted suicide has already been legalised. 

“After initial laws designed to allow assisted dying in mentally ill patients were passed in Canada, legislators are now being asked to reconsider. That’s an example of how ‘slippery slope’ legislation has huge consequences,” he said. 

“This included a teenager aged 19, who was granted it because of anorexia nervosa.” 

He believes a better way forward would be to make palliative care a “mainstream option in the NHS not mainly funded by charities currently”, and improve the quality of the care on offer. 

“We need to devote ourselves to better palliative care,” he said.

“It is still patchy and depends on charitable funding. Medical care rightly prioritises saving lives. But when someone is nearing the end of their natural lives, priorities need to change.

“Research among junior doctors showed that in over 50 per cent of end-of-life cases, they wanted to offer palliative treatments but felt obliged to treat in a cure not care way.”

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