Sunday, 5 December 2010

Margo Macdonald’s criticisms of the Care Not Killing Alliance are without foundation

In the two hour debate that immediately preceded the overwhelming 85-16 defeat of her End of Life assistance (Scotland) Bill in the Holyrood Parliament last Wednesday, Margo Macdonald MSP spent almost her entire opening and closing speeches launching a scathing attack on the Care Not Killing Alliance (CNK).

In statements that were widely reported by the media, she condemned CNK’s campaign as ‘cheap and unworthy’, its literature as ‘tacky’ and said that she wanted to get her ‘retaliation’ in first’.

Care Not Killing is actually a broad alliance of over 40 organisations including human rights groups, faith groups, professional groups, disabled peoples organisations. It was founded in 2006 to oppose Lord Joffe’s Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill’ which was defeated in the House of Lords on 12 May that year.

CNK’s two aims are to promote good palliative care and to oppose any weakening of the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia. Operating as a cobelligerent coalition it has been extremely effective.

CNK has been engaged at every stage in the debate surrounding Margo Macdonald’s Bill. It produced a detailed briefing paper and written submission for the committee scrutinising the bill and was invited also to give oral evidence. Later it coordinated a campaign encouraging ordinary Scots to write to their MSPs and send postcards outlining objections to the bill.

In this way CNK placed an active part along with many other individuals and organisations in the democratic process that ultimately led to the bill’s heavy defeat.

But we need to remember that CNK’s submission was just one of 601 written submissions sent to the committee and that 86% of all submissions opposed the bill with only 6% in favour. We also need to remember that five out of the six MSPs on the committee recommended that the bill be rejected at the first stage debate.

We need to give MSPs the credit they deserve. They decided to reject the bill after an exhaustive democratic process during which both sides were given ample opportunity to present their arguments and after an objective, dispassionate review of the issues.

Margo Macdonald’s bill was rejected because it was judged by MSPs overwhelmingly to constitute a real danger to vulnerable people.

CNK outlines the failings of the bill on its website and I would recommend this concise analysis to anyone wanting to see quickly what its deficiencies are:

I leave the final words to Gordon Macdonald, CNK Scotland’s Policy Officer, who has formally responded to Margo Macdonald’s criticisms in a letter to the Herald.

You report Margo MacDonald’s condemnation of Care Not Killing (CNK) for our campaign against her Bill. In particular she seems to object to our response cards, which enabled people to express their opposition to her proposals.

We did not misrepresent the proposals in her Bill. Indeed, many of our criticisms of the Bill were shared by the parliamentary committee that considered the matter. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are highly charged and emotive issues. It is no surprise our campaign should provoke such a vehement reaction.

Ms MacDonald cannot dismiss the 21,000 people who responded to her Bill, using material provided by CNK, to indicate their opposition to her proposals. Of the 601 written responses to the parliamentary committee, some 86% were opposed to her Bill.

Ms MacDonald quotes opinion polls when they support her Bill, but cries foul when those who are opposed to her Bill express their opinion in substantial numbers. This is democratic politics in action and Ms MacDonald has to accept there is also a substantial and considered public and political opposition to her proposals.

The vast majority of MSPs considered her proposals and concluded that they should not be supported.


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