« Previous | Main | Next »

Revisiting the assisted suicide debate

Last year, Panorama examined the issue of assisted dying through the eyes of Margo MacDonald, the Member of Scottish Parliament who herself suffers from degenerative Parkinson's disease and who advocates legislation permitting doctors to assist in suicides.

In I'll die when I choose Ms MacDonald offered a deeply personal take on the issue and her own desire to decide how and when her life should end.

As new guidelines are issued for England and Wales by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ms MacDonald wrote her thoughts for Panorama's blog to once again add her voice to this emotive debate.

She is clear that she believes the law on assisted dying need to be decided by legislation, not by court-ordered guidance.

The new guidance comes after the Law Lords ruled that Debbie Purdy, a multiple sclerosis sufferer from Bradford, had the right to know whether her husband Omar Puente would be prosecuted if he helped her travel abroad to die.

Here are Ms MacDonald's thoughts:


"I'm glad for Debbie Purdy and her husband Omar following the DPP's commitment to "clarify" the laws surrounding assisted suicide. But the matter is not sorted.

Debbie and Omar can relax a bit more, although I won't be surprised if their campaign continues, because the law is inequitable and needs to be changed.

Other people in roughly their position cannot go to Switzerland because they don't have the money. Only primary legislation can provide everyone with the same range of choices, and autonomy, should they find their lives to be intolerable.

It is cowardly and cruel to retain the present inequality, and less than admirable to allow another country to provide facilities.

How many of the estimated 115 people who've been helped to end their lives in a Dignitas facility wanted to die in those circumstances, separated from family, friends, familiar things and memories?

As the programme inspired by Dr Anne Turner's experience made poignantly clear, people facing the probability of a very stressful episode at the end of life can end up having to precipitate death because of the need to go into the Dignitas facility while they retain the physical ability to self-administer.

If the intention is to legalise dignified assisted suicide for people whose relatives will remain liable to be prosecuted unless they derive no benefit from their relative's death, or where there is no public interest in prosecuting spouses and children, the DPP is simply re-stating the blindingly obvious and consolidating the status quo in England and Wales.

The Scottish Parliament will have my PAS Bill shortly. To institute fairness, and minimise ambiguity and strain from personal relationships should a person with a degenerative or terminal illness wish assistance to die, I've opted for voluntary, professional help, patient autonomy and defined categories."

Ms MacDonald does not stand alone on this issue.

In a statement, the MS Society said it too wants a more thorough review of the law. Here is an excerpt from the statement by MS Society Chief Executive, Simon Gillespie:

"People have been given the green light to explore assisted suicide, but without the support of medical professionals their only likely resource is Google.

"Whether society is ready to accept assisted suicide is too big a question for the DPP, for the courts, or for people with a long-term condition to decide.

"That's why the MS Society is calling for a Royal Commission to advise the government on whether legislation for assisted suicide is now needed."

On the other side of the debate, Dr Peter Saunders -- from the Care Not Killing Alliance -- told the BBC he was concerned that the DPP was trying to undermine current laws:

"Our real concern is about public safety. It's about people who are sick or elderly or depressed or disabled feeling under pressure, particularly at a time where families are under financial pressure, health and benefit cuts are coming, who feel under pressure to end their lives so as not to be an emotional or financial burden on others.

What we hope we don't see is legislation being made on the hoof -- a change in the law -- because the will of parliament is very clear."


  • Comment number 1.

    If someone is feeling 'under pressure' to kill themselves, then at the moment there is nothing to stop them either. Most elderly people have enough prescription drugs in their house to lay waste to several regiments.
    Nay sayers go on and on about 'God-given life' and yet time and time again we are happy to use all the medical interventions we can in order to defy disease, ill-health and death - perhaps in spite of 'Gods will'. I'm not advocating that people with a septic tooth should be allowed to die. But people with pain or a quality of life that is unacceptable to them should be allowed that one last modicum of control.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am someone who has mixed feelings in that i feel that life is precious and should be cherished. However, that being said, I think a personal form of hell would being either being fit in body but having your mind degenerate and losing who you are or the reverse where you are trapped in a body prison while your mind is whole and active.


More from this blog...


These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

Latest contributors

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.