Assisted dying is an emotive issue which has raised strong views on both sides of the debate on our Letters Pages in recent months.

Last Friday, the topic was covered with heartfelt emotion and great sensitivity by our columnist Catriona Stewart.

Read her article here 👈

Today one of our reader pens a powerful plea for assisted dying to be legalised.

Bob Scott of Drymen writes:

Catriona Stewart’s article, reflecting on her grandmother’s death, sensitively examines her feelings and refers to Liam McArthur’s Bill on Assisted Dying. My own views on the matter are not what they once were. They have been shaped by experience as a GP; by working in a palliative care service in Blantyre, Malawi; and conversations with over 600 families in Scotland, prior to conducting funerals for their loved ones.

From time immemorial doctors have looked upon the care of the dying as a duty and during my lifetime remarkable progress has been achieved. Despite that, many individuals continue to fear what the process will mean for them. This includes the loss of personal freedom, an inability to take part in activities which make life worthwhile and an irreparable loss of dignity. For some, the solutions to those problems lie beyond the power of others to deliver. Ultimately it is for an individual to decide if their suffering can no longer be endured.

Assisted dying should not be regarded as a means of circumventing inadequate end of life care. Rather than that bizarre position, all too often misrepresented by others, it should be looked upon as an adjunct to such care. Like all medical endeavours, palliative care has its limitations. It can never be all things to all women and all men. At present any intervention to hasten the death of someone who is suffering intolerably is illegal. As a consequence it must be clandestine and information on the scale of its use is incomplete. Despite this inhibition, it does occur. Unreported and unregulated assistance is currently carried out by some doctors to accelerate the dying process and it is disingenuous to ignore that reality.

However, over the years an unwelcome change in the behaviour of many doctors has taken place. Fears that self-righteous individuals may alert the regulatory authorities now intimidate compassion. A culture of blame and litigation have conspired to undermine what once was unexceptional. Put simply, for many people it has become harder to achieve an easy death. Should we continue to pretend this is not so? Must we go on turning a blind eye towards the forlorn, or failing that heartless rejection, point the wealthy towards the Swiss-Air departure lounge and a bleak premature death with Dignitas, far from home?

Ordinarily, the taking of one’s own life is a tragedy. When it results from mental illness or overwhelming emotional turmoil, how could it be otherwise? It is the few remaining cases which challenge our understanding, those carried out by individuals who have calmly decided to end their lives because of incurable illness and unbearable suffering. The intuitive response to that behaviour is to lump them in with the others. That conflation should be resisted. Although it cuts across the grain of our conditioning, some may be justifiable. There is a need to recognise such action can be appropriate, even if this runs contrary to our values. Showing tolerance towards the measured conduct of others, of which we do not approve, is the hallmark of a civilised people.

I began by acknowledging that my view on assisted dying has altered. In light of the evidence I have changed my mind. To paraphrase John Maynard Keynes, if the evidence changes we must all be willing to alter our attitude. The conclusion from an analysis of the evidence is unequivocal. Scotland should legalise assisted dying."

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