THE moving article written by Mr Pat Kane on assisted dying (I used to pray for some of my mum’s titanic pain to be transferred to me, Mar 30) raises some interesting arguments. He is correct in indicating that many of those supporting the legalisation of assisted suicide are motivated by compassion. But this is equally true of those opposing the procedure. So, what is the difference?

Mr Kane explains that he would consider assisted suicide if “I was facing an advancing wall of pain that would degrade my consciousness, derange my relations with loved ones, make the precious hours and days of my life less miraculous than they could otherwise be.” This seems to imply that the value of a life is merely based on its quality and the ability to make autonomous decisions.

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He also indicates that he believes he is just a “meat machine” staring at “the abyss of death with total horror”. But in a democracy and civilised society (which Mr Kane values) everyone must believe (and it is only a belief) that everyone else has equal inherent worth and we are not just “meat machines”. This belief may be based on a religious faith or simply a belief that all life is equally valuable, but it must be believed for a civilised society to survive.

Thus, the problem with assisted suicide is that it accepts, for the first time in Scottish society, that some lives no longer have any value and worth and should be ended. But for the Scottish Parliament to survive as a true beacon of civilisation, it must believe and accept that all persons are equally important no matter how old, disabled, vulnerable or close to death they are or become. Moreover, with palliative care, life (which is ending naturally) is made as comfortable as possible because it is actually considered to have full value and worth.

Dr Calum MacKellar
Director of Research, Scottish Council on Human Bioethics

WITH the Assisted Dying Bill beginning its progress through Holyrood, I still have reservations, in spite of supporting the principle of preventing unnecessary suffering which medical means could relieve.

Personal experience has led me to my view. A close relative, returning home from a short hospital stay and aware that his time was running out fast, made clear that under no circumstances was he prepared to go back into hospital. Very soon after, it was clear that the end was imminent as he began to suffer extreme pain. Palliative treatment made him comfortable, and he died peacefully less than 24 hours later. The doctor admitted that hospitalisation would have kept him alive for a few days more and left him suffering unnecessarily for longer. Extra days for what purpose?

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Another relative was condemned to watch her husband in agonising pain for nearly four days in hospital, when the level of palliative treatment reached the legal limit the doctors could give, which did not fully relieve his distress. What good did those four extra days of his life do for him or his wife, who had to watch helplessly?

In my now-distant childhood, there were many diseases frequently leading to a long-drawn-out, painful death for which modern medical advances have either found satisfactory treatment or have even eliminated. These advances in relieving suffering were the result of deliberate research over the years. If, therefore, it is acceptable to use medical means to relieve the suffering of these conditions that could cause death, why not for conditions from which death is certain and imminent?

I firmly believe that, if there were to be an amendment to the Assisted Dying Bill simply to allow palliative treatment to whatever level is required and available when death is inevitable and imminent, even if it hastens death as a side effect, many more folk would support it. The oft-quoted Hippocratic Oath imposes on doctors the duty to relieve suffering, not just to preserve life at all costs.

P Davidson

WHILE I share the misgivings about juryless trials, I am also very dismayed that the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has come out in favour of doing away with the “not proven” verdict.

If we are to change to just two verdicts, logic says they should be proven/not proven. It is the job of the prosecution to prove the charges they have brought. If they fail to do so the charge is not proven and the accused would be set free. We all know perfectly well that there are cases where the accused’s guilt is not proven, so that should be the verdict. It does not mean the accused is not guilty; it is likely that the charges were brought in the first place because there was good reason to suspect guilt. Now that we can have retrials if more evidence comes to light, it would allow for the accused to be retried. Not guilty, on the other hand, pretty well exonerates the accused for ever.

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The current stigma against the “not proven” verdict is largely because what I have suggested above is not explained. We know that there is a deliberate campaign, heavily promoted by the mainstream media, that we should always follow what is practised south of the Border, regardless of our own constitutional practice.

I believe that the public will understand the logic of proven/not proven if it is properly explained and would soon come to accept it.

Andrew M Fraser