Alex Massie

Suicide is Painless, It Brings on Many Changes...

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No-one could mistake back-bench Conservative MPs for advocates for limited government. So it's scarcely surprising that Nadine Dorries and Edward Leigh are up in arms over proposals to "clarify" the law (in England and Wales) on assisted suicide. You might think it's your body and your life but that doesn't mean you have the right to decide your own fate. No way. Not if these energetic busybodies have anything to do with it.

On her blog, Dorries raises the preposterous prospect of state-sponsored death squads marauding through Britain's nursing homes and hospitals, pulling out plugs and smothering pensioners with their pillows. She doesn't put it quite as colourfully as that, but that's the spectre she's raising.

To put it mildly, this seems unlikely. Perhaps the 1971 Suicide Act does require updating but Dorries is surely mistaken and the consequences of enabling Assisted Suicide rather less severe than she imagines. Not least because we can compare the English situation with the law as it stands in Scotland.

It may be a criminal offence to assist someone to die in England but there's no such offence in Scotland. Notionally such activity could result in a charge of culpable homicide, but Lallands Peat Worrier has persuaded me that actually there's no law there. So, while it's been illegal to help someone kill themselves in England, no such law has applied in Scotland, for the simple reason that there is no law and, consequently, no "clarity" of the sort that exists in England. 

And yet, despite that, there's been no epidemic of or mania for assisted suicide. The country's nursing homes remain well stocked. Even, you might say, overstocked*.

La Dorries may think she is "protecting" the "weak" and the "vulnerable" but there's little evidence - or at least she's provided little - that suggests this is the case since there is, as I say, no reason to suppose that the absence of law in Scotland has endangered these people any more than the presence of forbidding law has "protected" them in England.

Assisted suicide, by its nature, is a minority pursuit and interest. Dorries, however, would like to lock people up for helping their spouse or parent end their lives with dignity and free from crippling, intolerable pain. Quite why this is any of her business must remain a mystery. In any case, individual lives are poor subjects for law, even if it's no surprise that politicians cannot see a piece of crooked timber without wanting to straighten it. As is too often the case, these MPs want to criminalise - or increase still further existing sanctions - upon behaviour between consenting adults. As is normally the case this should be none of their business.

*UPDATE: Just to be cear this doesn't mean I'm in favour of encouraging voluntary euthanasia, let alone making it compulsory. I make no proposal, no matter how modest it might be, for dealing with an elderly population.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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