Margo MacDonald’s campaign to establish a culture of death in Scotlandis growing increasingly bizarre and more chilling. She appears hellbent on becoming Scotland’s very own Angel of Death. MacDonald, a once formidable politician, who has borne her own Parkinson’s disease these last few years with courage and dignity, now risks contaminating her superb record of public service with this bizarre and alarming campaign to make it easier for people to kill themselves.
In the death of her own political career, she is being assisted by Patrick Harvie, who leads the Green party in his spare time when he is not trying to eradicate all vestiges of Christianity from Scottish public life. Harvie is rather like a barnacle here, clinging on to the hide of a rusting and once magnificent ocean-going liner.
MacDonald’s previous death bill, introduced in 2010, was soundly defeated in Holyrood by 85 votes to 16. She has now spent the last two years chiselling it down a little in a bid to hoodwink those who voted against it the last time. Essentially, though, despite a bewildering and meaningless set of new safeguards, the new version of the bill remains the same and carries the same contempt for the sanctity of all human life.
She and her supporters now claim that the new bill will ensure that only terminally ill people or those suffering from deteriorating progressive conditions can seek to kill themselves. The twisted morality underpinning the new death bill is that these conditions make life intolerable for the sufferers. This is very dangerous ground indeed. Many people who take their own lives do so because of depression. Society has not yet begun to consider urging those suffering from depression to kill themselves and have done with it.
How can we tell to what extent depression influences a terminally ill person to seek suicide? MacDonald’s latest offering largely mirrors theOregon model that, when passed into legislation, resulted in a 450% jump in assisted suicides, of which around 20% involved people who were depressed. Still, it’s a good way of alleviating the burden of care spending. Better still, as soon as we all start wearing tartan dressing gowns, swearing in the night and getting fed soup, we ought all, in a spirit of civic and fiscal responsibility, sign our own death certificates.
MacDonald and the loose assortment of militant atheists who are egging her on in her deathly obsession claim that 69% of Scots support assisted suicide. What they neglect to inform us is that this is actually down from 75% a couple of years ago. There are many reasons why people signal their approval of assisted suicide, many based on an emotional and ill-considered reaction to a sugar-coated question with no knowledge of a complicated issue. On the face of it, who wouldn’t want to alleviate the suffering of a fellow human being in extremis?
There is an assumption that people suffering from locked-in syndrome – being completely paralysed and able only to communicate through blinking – must have reached a stage where life is simply not worth living any more. Yet the largest-ever study of chronic LIS patients found that almost three-quarters were happy and that only 7% had suicidal thoughts. The study’s author, Steven Laureys of the Coma Science Group at the University Hospital of Liège in Belgium, also found that many of these people were desperate for some kind of social interaction and activity tailored to their condition.
For many, though, the financial, physical and emotional demands this would make on us would be too much to bear and thus we would call them vegetables and seek ways of putting them out of our misery.
But in a society where the price of human dignity is considered too dear for those who gave us the bedroom tax and who would allow our biggest bank to destroy thousands of small businesses for increased profit we should be wary of placing a price on human beings at the end of their lives.
Instead of frittering away what remains of her political career obsessing about encouraging very sick people to kill themselves, MacDonald ought to be campaigning for a minimum quality of palliative care for everyone in Scotland who requires it at the end of their lives. Scotland can be rightly proud of the quality of its palliative care where it exists. Where this includes a care module that takes account of a patient’s social, emotional and spiritual needs – as well as physical ones – requests for assisted suicide are sparse.
The question that enlightened and compassionate Scotland needs to ask itself is this: do we think the price of providing this universally is one worth paying? Or have we already begun to decide who should die and who should live based on cost and where the ceiling of what we consider to be too uncomfortable to behold occurs?
Scotland has had this debate before and each time it is aired those among us who are not blessed with tip-top mental and physical health must feel a little more vulnerable. When people start talking loosely about what constitutes intolerable pain or quality of life, then those who have mental health issues or who have Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy must begin to wonder if one day some politicians will consider their existences to be too much for the nation to bear.
Once again, the vulnerable sick, the elderly, the infirm and those who have become enfeebled must prepare to lock their doors and put on the heating as the air in Scotland just got chilly again. If this bill ever becomes law, how many of them will be made to feel a burden on their peers? How many, their minds beginning to become gently detached, will be handed a pen and a piece of paper and asked to hand over the title deeds?
The last days of a human life are sacred and anointed and must remain free from those who will always exploit legislation to end it before its allotted time.