Scotland Assisted Suicide Bill contains significant flaws, says committee

Holyrood’s committee examining Patrick Harvie’s Assisted Suicide Bill is not persuaded by the case for a change in the law

The Health and Sport Committee of the Scottish Parliament has presented the report of its examination of Patrick Harvie MSP’s Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill.  The Bill was presented by the late Margo Macdonald MSP but taken over by Mr Harvie after her death a year ago.

The Committee writes that it “is not persuaded by the argument that the lack of certainty in the existing law on assisted suicide makes it desirable to legislate to permit assisted suicide”.  It also considers “that legislation to permit assisted suicide seems discordant with a wider policy of suicide prevention” and that “the bill contains significant flaws” which “present major challenges as to whether the Bill can be progressed”. 

Though a majority of its Members do not support the principles behind the bill, the Committee has not made a formal recommendation to the Scottish Parliament, which will have an opportunity to debate the Bill during May.

In questioning the need for a change in the law the Committee has put its finger on a crucial feature of the ‘assisted dying’ debate.  Where is the evidence that the existing law is in need of change?  We are not talking about tax law or planning law or traffic regulations here but about a law involving (literally) life-or-death decisions and irreparable consequences.  If Parliament, north or south of the border, is to be asked to approve such legislation, it needs serious evidence that the law as it stands is dysfunctional or oppressive.  Yet no convincing evidence to that effect has been produced. 

Until that happens, legislators are right to remain sceptical.