Yesterday it was revealed that Alison Britton has been appointed as the adviser to the Scottish Parliament’s committee on assisted dying. Not, as the opponents of reform suggested, because she is supposedly favourable towards the idea, but because it introduces evidence-based analysis to parliamentary decision-making.
Britton, together with another leading authority on medical law, Sheila McLean, headed up the study in 1996 and has since co-authored other works on similar dilemmas. Although the study was sponsored by Exit (also known during that period of its history as The Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Scotland), the contractual arrangement with Glasgow University meant that it was academically independent of whatever findings the study would reveal. (The other contributor was BBC Scotland, who commissioned the public opinion poll.)
Crucially, it concluded that:
- arguments in favour of physician assisted suicide outweigh those against
- Medics supporting a change in the law outnumber those against
- The public would prefer doctors to take the final action at the patient’s request, but doctors favour the patient taking the final action
- A cautious type of a Bill could be devised with extensive safeguards
Pro-life campaigners were angered by the appointment of Britton to her position as the committee’s only adviser and sought assurances that she would be impartial. Britton in fact has some of the highest credentials for such impartiality, having researched and lectured in Medical Law both at Glasgow and abroad.
Often the path forward through such a polarising issue as assisted suicide is less one of one side winning and the other side losing. It is about finding the least worst option after considering the benefits and harms that may accrue through one type of action (or inaction) versus another. By laying everything out in a methodical manner, as Britton’s work has repeatedly attempted to do, the best course forward, and the one that will also achieve the maximum consensus, might appear.
Scotland on Sunday story
Summary from Sometimes a Small Victory
Website of Margo Macdonald (End of Life Choices Bill)
Scottish Parliament End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill website
Parliamentary response to questions about Alison Britton’s impartiality