Thursday, 6 May 2010

The End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill: Views from the trenches. Part 4

This posting is the fourth and final part of the article that Dr Stephen Hutchison MD FRCP(Glasg, Consultant Physician in Palliative Medicine at the Highland Hospice has written on the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill.

The doctor is also responsible for determining at any stage in the process, including during the final act, whether any comment ‘however informal’ by the person indicates a wish to stop the process. How does a doctor qualitatively evaluate statements or questions in this context? For instance, do expressions of hesitation or doubt, or concerns about the family, constitute informal revocation? Can any assurance be given that where hesitation is expressed to someone else that this is passed on to the doctor, rather than suppressed with well meaning or malicious intent? In the context of the decision in hand, how can a doctor determine with the required confidence what would and what would not amount to an informal revocation. So not only is this a vague ‘safeguard’ it actually prejudices the care of anybody going through the process, because it inhibits open dialogue with the doctor which is so important when approaching death.

So, as always, there are two sides to the argument. Although there are some strident campaigners, for the most part those on each side approach the issue with compassion at heart and we should acknowledge that. If you favour this legislation, you have to address its inadequacies. And if you oppose it, you have to recognise that you are left with very difficult questions about personal choice and suffering. Let’s avoid arrogant, polarised, gut reactions. Alienating the opposition makes good journalese but doesn’t encourage informed, intelligent debate. Our politicians are exercised by this issue and public ranting doesn’t help them. They have a free vote when it comes to parliamentary debate. We always tend to think that they have a responsibility to us, but forget our responsibility as constituents to let them know what we think. Why not write to your MSPs and give them some constructive thoughts about this issue?


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