A SILENT majority of doctors backs plans to legalise assisted suicide, Independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald claimed today.
She said despite the official opposition of several professional bodies, her own conversations led her to believe there was widespread support among medics for her Bill to give people with terminal conditions, for whom life has become intolerable, the right to end their life.
Ms MacDonald’s comments came after 11 senior clinicians signed a letter announcing their support for the proposed legislation.
They said they believed the safeguards to protect vulnerable people were “comprehensive and rigorous” and the Bill would complement the “excellent” palliative care currently on offer in Scotland, not undermine it.
Ms MacDonald welcomed the doctors’ intervention as a significant boost for the Bill. She said: “This is a group of doctors in Scotland, of their own volition, coming forward and saying they support it and why, talking about the safeguards being in place and making it clear, by what they say, that this has ceased to be a medical matter, it is a question of a right.”
She said she was “absolutely sure” the letter reflected a growing opinion in the medical profession.
She said: “I believe there is a silent majority of doctors in support of this, but many of them don’t want to become embroiled in a political fight.”
One of the letter’s signatories, Dr Gillian MacDougall, a practising ear, nose and throat surgeon in Lothian, who helped organise the letter, said more doctors would have signed it but had been concerned about possible repercussions. She said: “It is really hard in the medical profession to stand up and say you support this as a practising doctor.
“I think there is a fear of being labelled Dr Death and fear of political repercussions. I know there are GPs out there who support it but they do not feel able to put their name to a present publication because of possible backlash from partners and the community.”
The General Medical Council and the British Medical Association have both come out against Ms MacDonald’s Bill.
But the Royal College of General Practitioners in Scotland said it could not take an official position after a survey found opinions polarised for and against.
Ms MacDonald’s Bill sets out a three-stage process for people wanting to use its provisions to end their life, with cooling-off periods to ensure they do not rush into it.
Doctors would issue a prescription for the necessary medication, but this would then be collected by a trained “facilitator” who would then assist the patient in the final stages.