Euthanasia report is ‘victory for disability movement in Scotland’


Disabled activists have welcomed a Scottish parliamentary committee’s recommendation that MSPs reject plans to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia in Scotland.

The committee, set up to consider the end of life assistance (Scotland) bill, outlined a series of flaws in the legislation proposed by independent MSP Margo MacDonald, and concluded that it could not recommend its “general principles” to the Scottish parliament.

The bill, which will now be debated by MSPs, would allow those “whose life has become intolerable”, and who met a series of conditions, to “legally access assistance to end their life”.

Those who were terminally ill – or “permanently physically incapacitated” as a result of a progressive condition or “trauma” and “unable to live independently” – would qualify for assistance to end their lives.

Surveys suggest a large majority of MSPs will now vote against the bill.

The committee concluded in its report on the bill that society’s “wider” interests should prevail over an individual’s right to exercise control over the time of their death, and highlighted evidence that the bill could have “a negative effect for disabled people”.

It also criticised the “extraordinarily wide” number of disabled people who would be covered by the law and warned that “using the inability to live independently as an eligibility requirement for end-of-life assistance” could have “unintended consequences”.

And it pointed to the “particularly compelling” evidence given by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), who argued that disabled people’s lives could be “intolerable” simply because society was failing to provide “sufficient and appropriate support”.

It concluded that Scottish law on assisted suicide and euthanasia was clear and unambiguous and dismissed “spurious” calls for clarity.

Pam Duncan, a board member of Inclusion Scotland, who gave evidence opposing the bill, said she was “really pleased” with the report, which had been “a lot stronger than we expected”.

She said that DPOs had played a crucial part in convincing the committee that the bill should not become law.

She said: “It says something about the strength of the disabled people’s movement in Scotland that we were able to get that voice out and get people heard.”

Duncan said the report had sent a message to MSPs and wider society about “the value of the lives of disabled people”.

Catherine Garrod, a member of Inclusion Scotland, also welcomed the report, and added: “We thought the committee would come back with a neutral report which would just highlight the pros and cons. We didn’t think they would make a recommendation.”

But both Duncan and Garrod said the bill had been a major distraction from the need to campaign against the spending cuts that are set to have a major impact on disabled people’s right to independent living.

Garrod said: “The disability movement wants to be focused on fighting those cuts and fighting for those rights rather than this distraction.”

18 November 2010