Assisted suicide will hurt the young as much as the old

Mary O’Brien argues that a society that endorses a ‘right to die’ will be a hostile place for the living.

Once again assisted suicide is on the agenda in Scotland. For the third time in a decade we are hearing about the need to speed up the end of life, with little consideration to what that will do to the rest of our lives.

Currently, assisting in the death of another person carries the risk of prosecution in Scots Law. However, in September 2021, Liam McArthur, a Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney Islands, proposed a Bill that would enable terminally ill adults to request assistance to end their life, provided they are deemed mentally competent.

This proposal, in its complete disregard for the dignity of human life, highlights the stark reality of the world which young people like myself look set to inherit.

The proposed Bill begins by highlighting an extensive list of safeguards which would be deemed essential criteria to be met before a person would be provided with assistance to end their life. However, as evidenced by many countries throughout the world, these supposed safeguards do do not stand the test of time.

In the Netherlands, for example, euthanasia became legal in 2002 for terminally ill adults facing unbearable suffering. In 2018, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands extended the laws to include elderly people who are not terminally ill, purely on account of being elderly and the accumulation of medical complaints that often accompany this.

In 2002, Belgium also legalised euthanasia for adults in a state of ‘constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering’ provided they can make such a decision competently and with no external pressures. Just 12 years later Belgium extended these euthanasia laws to children of any age, provided the doctors receive parental consent.

The trajectories that the Dutch and Belgian laws have headed down are concerning, but ultimately, they are unsurprising. Once a society stops prioritising the care of its most vulnerable members (including, but not limited to, the infirm and the suffering), it will descend the slippery slope into instability and immoral chaos.

Why would Scotland be any different? How long would it take for a similar situation to arise in Scottish society? By the time I’m 50 who would be able to legally apply to end their own life? Children, the depressed, anyone who asked for it? This is why I see this as an issue that deeply af- fects young people, because once we open this door, we argue about more and more people being urged to go through it.

Fundamental to the argument for the proposed Bill is that it aims to provide every patient with more choice in how their life ends. However, I believe this proposed Bill would in fact diminish the choice for the most vulnerable – they would be coerced into believing death was their best, or even their only, option. Giving someone the option to end their life prematurely, gives them reason to believe they should or even must die early. The proposed Bill

claims that its safeguards would ensure that ‘vulnerable people are not adversely af- fected’ by the proposal. This is a gross dis- service to those people we have a duty to protect. We need to strive beyond the vul- nerable not being adversely affected, to the vulnerable being cherished and respected. This proposed Bill would make the previously unthinkable, thinkable. Medi- cal practitioners, who have taken an oath to protect all human life would be given legal power to assist in the killing of their patients. I do not want to age in a world where the doctor-patient relationship dynamic is fundamentally and disastrously


As Catholics, we have a duty to go be- yond simply criticising this proposed legislation. We must ask the all-important questions: Why is euthanasia viewed to even be necessary in the first place? Why don’t people want to live?

Of course the assisted suicide lobby will say they simply wish to relieve extreme pain and suffering and to ensure dignity at the moment of death. Such an argument presents itself as compassionate but I believe it is the opposite. It presents the idea that those who are suffering lack a dignity that can only be brought about by death. The inherent dignity of each indi- vidual human being is not dependent on their health or stage of life but is rooted in their identity as a beloved child of God.

The only appropriate response to the request for euthanasia in Scotland is to ensure the whole person is cared for and this is certainly not achieved through killing. On the contrary, palliative care provides true dignity to those facing the last moments of their life. In the words of the late Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern hospice, palliative care allows the patient ‘not only to… die peacefully, but to also live until you die.’ A society that offers that to every person, is one in which I’d be happy to grow old.

Mary O’Brien is a maths student at the University of Edinburgh.

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