Poll: Assisted Suicide Law "Important"

3 February 2015, 05:00 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

Almost four fifths of Scots think it is important for controversial proposals on assisted suicide to become law, a poll has suggested.

The research, for My Life, My Death My Choice, an umbrella organisation set up in support of the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, found 78% of those questioned said it was either of "high importance'' or "middling importance'' that the proposed legislation is passed by the Scottish Parliament.

Campaigners for and against the Bill are to put their cases to MSPs on Holyrood's Health Committee, who have been charged with scrutinising the plans being championed by Green MSP Patrick Harvie following the death of independent Margo MacDonald.

But Dr Peter Saunders, campaign director of Care Not Killing, the umbrella group spearheading the fight against the proposed legislation, urged MSPs to take the lessons of the Holocaust to heart.

Dr Saunders, who will give evidence to MSPs on the committee, said: "The lessons are clear. The Holocaust had small beginnings and advanced in a series of imperceptibly small steps. The medical profession accepted its basic premises - that there is such a thing as 'a life not worth living' and that killing such people was 'an act of mercy' - and failed to protest whilst a small section of its members actively acquiesced to involvement.

"We should take these lessons to heart as we contemplate a change in the law to allow doctors help people take their own lives.''

Dr Saunders, a surgeon who is also chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, claimed: "The many similarities between Germany in the 1930s and the direction Western medicine is moving today give great cause for alarm.''

Bob Scott, a spokesman for My Life, My Death, My Choice, argued that over the past 12 months there had been "consistently high support for the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill''.

He stated: "This has been clearly demonstrated in the poll in 2014 showing 69% support, the 74% of submissions to the Health & Sport Committee asking the legislation to be passed and the nearly 4,000 people who have signed a petition to MSPs in favour of the Bill.

"Last year, we were told by opponents of the Bill that the issue wasn't of real importance to the public. With 78% saying it is important the Bill be passed, that idea is clearly debunked.

"This legislation has huge public support and is clearly of major importance to the electorate. MSPs need to catch up with public opinion, agree on the principle of this legislation and allow it to proceed to Stage 2 for more detailed discussion.''

If approved by Holyrood, the Bill would allow those with terminal or life-shortening illnesses to obtain help in ending their suffering.

It is the second attempt to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland after previous proposals were rejected by MSPs in 2010.

Dr Saunders said polls on the issue could be "easily manipulated'', adding that "public opinion is uninformed, uncommitted and unconvincing''.

He stated: "Public support for a similar Bill dropped dramatically from 73% to just 43% when the five key arguments against it were heard.

"Polls consistently show between 70% and 80% in support of AS (assisted suicide). However, the issue is clearly far more complex than a simple 'support'/'oppose' question can do justice to.

"When offered evidence about the nature or source of opposition to AS, and some of the key arguments against it, this high level of support rapidly dwindles.''