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Assisted Suicide Bill ambiguous and lacking in definition, Law Society warns

26 May 2015 | tagged News release

The proposed assisted suicide bill would fail to protect the people it intends to due to lack of clarity says the Law Society of Scotland. 

The Law Society says the lack of clarity in definitions and ambiguity of the proposed legislation remain a key concern, and if enacted could be difficult to enforce.

The Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill aims to allow a person with a terminal or life shortening illness to end their life with the assistance of another.

Ahead of the stage 1 debate in the Scottish Parliament today, Alison Britton, convener of the Law Society’s Health and Medical Law Committee said: “This is a highly emotive and complex subject.  We have said throughout the passage of this Bill, that legislation in this area needs to be absolutely clear, and those seeking to end their lives, and those who assist them, need a robust and transparent  process to be certain under which conditions it would be lawful for assistance to be provided .

“We remain concerned over the lack of definition of the key terms, such as ‘assistance’ and ‘life-shortening’ and the functions of the licensed facilitator are still uncertain.   Lack of such clarity leads to ambiguity and leaves the legislation  open to interpretation.”

The Law Society has also criticised a provision in the bill which intends to protect those who assist in the suicide of another, but who act inconsistently from the Bill’s provisions, although they do so in ‘good faith’ and ‘in pursuance’ of the Bill. 

Ms Britton said: “This provision is so widely worded it would make practicable enforceability very difficult.  The court would have wide discretion in interpreting what the intended pursuance of the legislation was, and as such an ignorance of the law could be a defence.”

The Bill also has a provision which allows for a proxy to sign the request for assisted suicide where the person making the request is blind, unable to read or unable to sign themselves.    

Coral Riddell, head of Professional Practice at the Law Society said: “We have consistently said it is not appropriate for solicitors to act as proxies in this situation.  Solicitors are not qualified to assess a person’s mental capacity in a matter relating to the ending of their life.”

The Stage 1 debate on the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill is taking place on Wednesday 27 May at 2pm at the Scottish Parliament. 

ENDS                                                                       26 MAY 2015

Notes to editors

The Law Society of Scotland’s stage 1 brief and links to our written evidence and oral evidence session can be found on our website. Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Val McEwan on 0131 226 888. Email: valeriemcewan@lawscot.org.uk

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