Margo MacDonald claims that about 50 Scots a year would die if her ‘end of life assistance’ bill were to be enacted.
She makes this remarkable claim on the basis that experience in the few countries where assisted death has been legalised shows that it accounts for only one in every 2,000’ deaths - though, interestingly, she names no specific country or source. The facts tell a very different story.
A select committee of the Westminster Parliament investigated the death rate from euthanasia and assisted suicide in Oregon and The Netherlands as part of its examination of Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying Bill.
It found that, in the US State of Oregon, where physician assisted-suicide (but not euthanasia) is legal for the terminally ill only, the rate was 1 in 714 deaths. Given that there are some 55,000 deaths a year in Scotland, we might expect therefore about 80 deaths a year with an Oregon-type law. In fact, deaths from assisted suicide have risen steadily in Oregon since the law there was enacted 13 years ago. By 2008, the number of Oregonians who were committing suicide every year with drugs legally supplied by their doctors had risen nearly fourfold!
More important, however, Ms MacDonald’s proposed law, like that in The Netherlands, allows both assisted suicide and euthanasia and it would license the practice not only for the terminally ill but for anyone who is ‘permanently physically incapacitated to such an extent as not to be able to live independently’ and who ‘finds life intolerable’.
In The Netherlands the select committee assessed that one in every 38 deaths was the result of legislation similar to what Ms MacDonald is now proposing. This would translate into nearly 1,500 deaths of Scots every year. All this information is publicly available in the 2005 report of the House of Lords select committee, whose in-depth investigation of 'assisted dying' heard from nearly 150 expert witnesses in four countries.
Ms MacDonald's estimates, which are wide of the mark by a factor of 30 – or 3,000 percent, are seriously misleading. The Scottish public and Parliament would be well advised to approach her bill with great caution and in knowledge of the facts rather than the spin.