Letter: suicide is always a tragedy

Sir – I’m grateful to Moira Symons for taking the time to reply to my letter on assisted suicide (Show both sides of euthanasia debate, 17 August) and put forward her own views on this complex and emotive issue.

I’ll begin my response on a point of agreement. I echo Ms Symons’ call for more debate, whether in the pages of this newspaper or in a live format. Debate is vital in democracies and true, meaningful debate is sadly lacking in some corners of Scottish society. On this issue, marginalised voices are being overlooked.

On Ms Symons’ claim of public support for ‘assisted dying’, survey data shows that people understand this term differently. In my own experience, when people learn more about what’s involved in assisted deaths, and consider evidence of abuses, extension, and harms to vulnerable human beings, their views shift.

I disagree with Ms Symons’ statement that suicide is “usually a tragedy”. It is always a tragedy, and our societal commitment to preventing suicide depends on a consistent message that every life is worth protecting and affirming. Assisting the suicides of some people undermines this commitment. Ethical responses to suffering exist that do not involve handing people poison.

Ms Symons states that Liam McArthur’s proposals would allow “competent” adults whose deaths are “already imminent” to access assisted suicide. The question facing MSPs as they come to consider his Bill is this – do proposed safeguards hold up to scrutiny? In the view of many experts, they do not.

No human system is free from error, and error in an ‘assisted dying’ law means unjust, irreversible deaths. Assessments on competency are fraught. Doctors’ prognoses are fraught. ‘Safeguards’ will fail and may be eroded or dispensed with over time.

We owe it to our most vulnerable citizens not to gamble with their lives.


Jamie Gillies

This letter was sent to The Courier on 24 Aug 2023, in reply to another published on the same day. My original letter is available here: Letter: Euthanasia coverage lacking

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