Doctors call for ‘conscience clause’ to be included in assisted suicide bill
Scottish doctors have called for a “conscience clause” to be included in new assisted suicide laws which would let them opt out of the measure.
Holyrood’s health committee was told yesterday that the majority of doctors opposed the proposals, which would permit state-assisted suicide through the use of various drugs from pharmacies.
President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Dr Francis Dunn, said: “It would be very important to have a conscience clause. one would be concerned about the patient having to go to different doctors to find one that was in agreement with that.
“We need to think about our duty of care to our patient from that point of view, but a conscience clause is very important.”
Dr Dunn added. “The great majority would be uncomfortable about participating in a process which directly led to a patient’s death,” he said. “That’s something that is alien to our development and career.”
Aileen Bryson, head of practice and policy at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Scotland, also called for the inclusion of a conscience clause.
She said: “Among the members who would be willing to dispense a prescription for a procedure, a conscience clause is an absolute must in those circumstances.
Dr Dunn added: “I feel that if this had come in, say, 20 years ago, it would have diminished the impetus on the palliative care movement.”
Richard Simpson MSP, a former GP, expressed concerns about conditions meeting the “life-shortening” criteria.
He said: “There are those with learning disability – not severe learning disability – or epilepsy. All these people at the moment tend to have a much shorter life expectancy.
“So I have real difficulties – not about the terminal illness group, not about the progressive group – but I have significant difficulty in what constitutes a life-shortening condition.”
David Stephenson QC, of the Faculty of Advocates, shared this concern.
He said: “It would seem to follow that any illness that shortens your expectancy of life is life-shortening.”
“Type 2 diabetes may shorten your life by only a relatively short period of time, but nonetheless you could argue it’s a life-shortening condition,” he said.
The bill provides that those seeking assisted suicide must have a quality of life that has become “unacceptable” in which there is no prospect of improvement.
Opponents, who protested the bill outside the parliament yesterday, called the proposals “unethical and uncontrollable”.