THE subject of euthanasia is the most sensitive in medical ethics.

It is a highly personal issue, which involves not only the wishes of the stricken person but also the concerns of those who are closest to them. Those responsible for the individual's care and treatment should also be heard.

As a result, any debate on the question of legislation for assisted deaths needs to be conducted in an enlightened, intelligent and civilised fashion. There is no room for bullhorn rhetoric or arguments based only on sentiment or passion.

This is particularly acute in the wake of the recent cases of Tony Nicklinson and a man known only as "Martin", in which three high court judges ruled that Parliament must decide on any change to the prohibition on euthanasia and assisted suicide. It was a compassionate judgment but it left unanswered the predicament of two men suffering from the condition known as locked-in syndrome, who had pleaded to be allowed to die with a doctor's help.

Another opportunity presents itself this week with a conference in Edinburgh organised by Care Not Killing (CNK), an alliance of healthcare professionals and faith bodies. It is opposed to euthanasia and claims to base its arguments on reason alone, "by avoiding any appeals to extremism". However, it has also claimed that euthanasia can never be acceptable as "we need to learn the lessons from Nazism".

Language of that kind is never helpful and in this case it is inflammatory.

With Margo MacDonald's assisted suicide bill about to be debated in the coming session at Holyrood, cool heads and wise minds will be needed. A start could be made in Edinburgh this week.