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HomeCulture WarsIs assisted suicide to be Sturgeon’s legacy?

Is assisted suicide to be Sturgeon’s legacy?

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NICOLA Sturgeon says she is ‘more open’ to a change that would make Scotland the first part of the UK to legalise assisted suicide. 

Terrifyingly, a law that would require wisdom and care in drafting or it could spell disaster, is in the Holyrood government’s gift. Since it has shown itself to be untroubled by either, this is ringing alarm bells north of the Border.  

Scotland has significant problems with depression, one in four Scots being affected. The impact of drink and drugs on suicide rates is well documented, and Scotland is fertile ground. The precedent for ‘psychiatric’ suicide has already been set under the ‘unbearable suffering’ criterion in countries where euthanasia has been legalised for some time, showing how easy it is to turn from addressing and treating such difficult issues to accepting this ‘solution’.

It is not just terminally ill people, with whom it is nigh on impossible not to sympathise, who seek or are open to an end to their suffering. While suicide may seem an individual choice, numbers rise and fall with social and environmental factors, as the French sociologist Emile Durkheim observed a century and a quarter ago. In fact the connection between socio-economic deprivation and suicidal behaviour is overwhelming. Areas of disadvantage tend to have higher rates of suicide and the greater the level of deprivation experienced by an individual, the higher their risk of suicidal behaviour.

So society is a massive guiding hand in suicide. Poor people are more likely to kill themselves. Although lockdown does not seem yet to have had the effect on suicide in Britain that the Samaritans feared, it undoubtedly moved more people to the vulnerable end of the spectrum. In India its impact is already showing in rising suicide cases amongst young people.

In Canada, where depression and mental health issues have also reached alarming levels, experts warn that the suicide toll may be yet to come. 

Since March 2021, when Bill C-7 received royal assent, Canadian euthanasia law has no longer required a person’s natural death ‘to be reasonably foreseeable to access medical assistance in dying’ (MAID) and from March 2023, mental health will be added to the list of ‘intolerable’ criteria for assisted suicide.  If you are depressed and want to die, the Canadian government will look after you. Not by helping you, but by letting you kill yourself. Nice.  

Lockdown was justified by governments with their high-minded claim that the needs of the few took precedence the needs of the many.  It was a rationale that was largely accepted as the moral choice, though it patently failed to turn into practice in care homes while sacrificing a whole generation of children to the cause. The few it benefited were the rich who became richer. 

Now this rationale is being used again. Once again it is the supposed needs of the few (who want to end their lives) that is the excuse for this new law. But the law is a sledgehammer, not a scalpel, and a significant change in the law affects us all.   

Suicide is an individual’s choice, but it can have a hostile or friendly breeding ground. Legalising assisted death provides an invitation. Death becomes something to think about, an option the state is offering. This fundamentally changes the way we think about end-of-life care, and life itself. The question is no longer why do you want to die, but why do you want to live?   

And in the name of all that is good, if Scotland is going to make such a seismic shift in policy, do we entrust it to a government marked by ill-thought-out policy decisions to ‘stick it’ to Westminster? SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will do anything for a legacy. If she must euthanise something, then this idea should be top of the list.  

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Gail MacDonald
Gail MacDonald
Gail MacDonald is a professional psychologist and writer. Views expressed here are her own.

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