4 March 2010

End of Life Committee starts its work...

Since the short history of this blog has (purely coincidentally) run alongside the emerging public debate on legalising assisted dying in Scotland, it is my intention to continue to pad alongside, snapping at intellectually sloppy heels, and generally sustaining a measure of scrutiny on the Parliamentary limbs that are moulding and refashioning the discourse on Scottish regulation of euthanasia. It will be fascinating (and I suspect frustrating) discussion.

Some commentators might well approach the issues with a primarily philosophical focus, asking fundamental questions of ethics such as What is the right thing to do? What acts are immoral and why? Although I find these questions fascinating, for me they won't be the most telling pieces of data to emerge from the discussion. Rather, my own primary curiosity is what this debate might show us about the sociology of ethical knowledge in Scotland, here and now. Whatever ethical conclusions we reach, we might also want to think about what the range of perspectives articulated might mean, independent of the broader questions about the foundations for ethics and the elements justifying criminalisation of conduct. Who is constructed as authoritative knowers on the subject? How are appeals to authority tacked on to those systems of knowledge and what knowledges are submerged, deemed unauthoritative, and rejected? What arguments do advocates make? What clusters of concepts do they rely on? In what terms does disagreement manifest? In the final analysis, whether the Bill becomes a law or not, whose arguments prevail? Beyond the ethical questions, examining these issues will probably tell us something important about how these issues are constructed in our public life and what social groups are achieving, albeit in a complex way, legitimacy and the realisation of their preferences.

The End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill Committee – or the Health 2 Committee as it might otherwise be styled – began its work on Tuesday. At their first meeting, Liberal Democrat Ross Finnie was confirmed as Convenor, while Dr Ian McKee of the SNP was installed as his deputy. In a whimsical little touch, until Finnie was confirmed in his convenorship, the oldest member of the committee presides. With a mordant air, the most gerontically advanced member present, Ian McKee, dryly noted that

“In fact, I have now convened three committees in this session, which is probably a small record. Unfortunately, I have been in the role of convener for a total of about four minutes.”

No interests beyond the ordinary register being brought to the Committee’s attention, our deputies seemed to warm to their bantering theme:

The Convener (Ross Finnie): It was good of the committee to decide to have a younger convener.

Michael Matheson: It is marginal.

The Convener: Very.

Thereafter, they repaired into private session, booted out some bemused members of the public and schemed a parliamentary scheme about how the Health 2 Committee’s business would be despatched. Come Wednesday morning, moving with lightning political reflexes, the Committee filled its lungs and issued a call for written evidence on the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill. They posed the following six questions. Anyone wanting to issue an epistle to the tribunes, answering these enquiries, should do so by Wednesday the 12th of May. Oral encounters will follow in due course.

Call for written evidence

The Committee welcomes evidence from individuals as well as from organisations and professional bodies. The Committee intends that evidence received will inform its consideration of the Bill at Stage 1. All responses will be made available to the Committee. The Committee invites views on all aspects of the Bill. Responses should address all or any of the following points in turn—

  • Do you agree a person should be able to request end of life assistance from a registered medical practitioner?
  • Are you satisfied with the requirements for age and connection with Scotland as set out in the Bill?
  • Are you satisfied with the two categories of people who would qualify to be assisted under the terms of the Bill?
  • The Bill outlines a several stage consent and verification process that would be required to be followed for an eligible person to receive end of life assistance. Are you satisfied with this process?
  • Do you consider the level and nature of safeguards as set out in the Bill to be appropriate?
  • Do you have any other considerations on the Bill not included in answers to the above questions?

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