Making sense of Margo Macdonald

Influential and respected independent MSP, Margo Macdonald, who has introduced the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill

Even before the consultation responses for Margo Macdonald’s controversial assisted suicide bill started flowing in, the Catholic Church ‘vowed to block the bill.’

Many Scots will wonder how an unelected body can in effect veto parliamentary committees, but having seen their highly organised and well-funded campaigns against similar bills world-wide, Exit is not surprised. The onslaught of press coverage somehow seems to give the impression that it is ordinary Scots who have suddenly risen up in their thousands to protest against the bill. This would indeed be a sea change. If it were true.

Practically every opinion poll ever conducted has shown a large support for legal reform to allow such aid-in-dying. Scottish Television (STV) even conducted a survey on assisted suicide in the immediate aftermath of the initial consultation period. 75% of those questioned felt that people should have a right to choose when to die, 78% believed that family members should not be prosecuted if they have helped a loved one to die and 61% considered that doctors should have the right to prescribe fatal doses to those requesting assisted suicide. Is the general public uniformly horrified that parliament is at last taking a considered view? The answer is, probably not.

Where exactly are the ‘thousands’ of protests and the ‘sackfuls’ of complaints quoted so egregiously in the newspapers? A brief look at the Submissions received in response to call for written evidence lists just over 600 submissions, either from individuals or organisations. This includes almost 40 anonymous ones but not those who have asked that their submissions not be published. It still doesn’t add up to ‘thousands.’ The Catholic Church, for instance, represents the Vatican’s views, as digested by its clergy, not persons born into the faith. Many of the ‘bioethics’ and anti-euthanasia groups are carbon copies of individuals posing as concerned groups of many. Most tellingly, campaigners from Care Not Killing handed over 14,000 of their own protest postcards. A good newspaper story, even if not very indicative of truth. The real statistics haven’t changed.

Slippery slopes? Newspapers rely on attention-grabbing headlines. Many of them have reported a massive increase in euthanasia in the Netherlands, when it is merely and clearly an increase in the efficiency of the reporting procedure. The Macdonald bill Committee also noted early on that the figures from Oregon have remained small and fairly constant and that there is no evidence of a slippery slope there either. Claims published by Care Not Killing and other scare groups are given high coverage in the media, even if untrue.

The Scottish Government rejected a referendum on the right to die issue. In Oregon, it was the power of the electorate that forced the law through in spite of misleading advertising and newspaper coverage. The law in Oregon allows voters to get a law through if sufficient numbers come out in support. Scotland has no such law. Published figures for Oregon also indicated that the Catholic Church had invested many times the amount that was available to campaigners, but voters were still able to prevail. Will the people of Scotland be so lucky?

Resources
End of Life Assistance Bill (home page)
Current version of the Bill (End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill)
Explanatory Notes (End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill)
Policy Memorandum (End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill)
Evidence and submissions received to date (Parliamentary Committee on End of Life Assistance Bill)
List of written submissions (published online – the following are a sample)
Submission from Exit (as published online)
Submission from Dignity in Dying (London-based pro-euthanasia group)
Catholic Bishops Conference of Scotland Submission (long)
Laurie & Mason submission (two leading Scottish academics)
Royal College of General Practitioners (Scotland) (RCGP)
Royal College of Nursing (Scotland) (RCN)
Royal Society of Edinburgh (urging a ‘toe in the water’)
Call for a toe in the water (Reported by The Scotsman newspaper)
MSPs List – names of cross-party supporters of the Bill (necessary for the Bill to be introduced)
STV (includes videofeed) Scots call for freedom to decide on assisted suicide (television survey report)
BBC (includes videofeed) Margo Macdonald speak about her Bill (January 2010)
Summary of Initial Consultation Responses (to Margo Macdonald bill 2009 – majority of respondents in favour)
Assisted dying regimes – a Briefing Paper (Kings College London to End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill Committee)
Assisted suicide and euthanasia (EAS) in Europe, with special regard to Switzerland (a Briefing Paper from the University of Zurich)
Referendum Petition (rejected by the Scottish Government)
Oregon assisted suicide statistics (Government reports)
Is euthanasia increasing? (figures in the Dutch v.e. society’s magazine)

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