Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Watch online: Physician assisted suicide debate

On 27 October 2008 we ran the public debate under the following motion:

"This house believes that physcian assisted suicide should not be legalised in Scotland"

Videos are separated by round:

1. Politicians http://www.blip.tv/file/2841222


Gordon Macdonald, (Public policy officer for Care Not Killing, Scotland.Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Scottish Liberal Democrats for East Renfrewshire)


Jeremy Purvis MSP, (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, author of Dignity with Dying consultation paper (2005))*

2. Physicians http://www.blip.tv/file/2840377


Dr Martin Leiper, Consultant Palliative Care Physician, Roxburghe House, Dundee


Dr Libby Wilson, Friends At The End (FATE)

3. Ethicists/lawyers http://www.blip.tv/file/2840942


Dr Calum MacKellar, Director of Research for the Scottish Council of Human Bioethics, Edinburgh.


Dr Alasdair Maclean, (Qualified in Medicine and Law, expert in end of life decisions, University of Dundee School of Law)

4. Theologians http://www.blip.tv/file/2841753


Rev. David Robertson, Minister of St Peter’s Free Church of Dundee and author of "The Dawkins Letters: challenging atheist myths"


Professor Paul Badham, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, Director of the Alistair Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, patron of Dignity in Dying

Chair: Professor Martin Pippard, Professor of Haematology & former Dean of Dundee Medical School.

Accompanying article published in the Monthly Record, publication of the Free Church of Scotland, is available here: http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0B0LFVK28zpYeMWRkZjZhZDItZDJmYi00YzQ0LWIxYTQtZDc3ZmY1OTRkZjkz&hl=en

Background: In 2005, Jeremy Purvis MSP introduced a Private Members’ Bill into the Scottish Parliament, calling for a change in the law to allow Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) for those with a terminal illness. This attracted the support of six other MSPs. In January 2008 he tabled another motion calling for the legalization of PAS but could gain the support of only one other MSP. On 26 March 2008, Margo MacDonald, Independent MSP for Lothian, made an impassioned appeal for a change to the law on assisted dying. Ms MacDonald has Parkinson’s disease and ‘doesn’t want to burden any friend or doctor but wants to be able to end her life in case she has the worst form of Parkinson’s’.

As a Christian, I have long been intrigued by how people’s belief frameworks give rise to their stance on a given issue. How do such frameworks hold up under scrutiny? Are they consistent with what the person perceives their framework to be? Are they internally and externally valid and reliable? What are the presuppositions and the logical outworkings? Since beginning my medical training this interest has inclined towards the application of these frameworks to patient care, and accordingly these questions have taken on an increased degree of importance. On this cerebral canvas, the move to legalize PAS in the United Kingdom was unlikely to escape my attention.

The idea to do a debate on PAS was provoked following a long discussion with a colleague in February 2008. Our talk really opened my eyes to the immediacy of issue, the myths surrounding it and its implications for me as a Christian. Moreover, the reality that termination of life might become an accepted therapeutic option for people at the end of their life was personally disturbing. Accordingly, the impetus for organising such a large-scale debate was, firstly, that such an important subject which would have long-lasting and far-reaching implications for society deserved to be in the public sphere. Secondly, if PAS was legalized it would profoundly and permanently alter the practice of medicine in the UK. Would it be too much to say it would denature it? Thirdly, the subject deserved to be debated rigorously by experts from more than one discipline, so we had four speakers on each side of the house representing politics, medicine, ethics/law and theology.

We sought to recruit the best speakers we could for each discipline. Fortunately, everyone we approached had experience of this issue before, with some even on the frontlines, and was delighted to participate (see above).

Imperative to me, with such a sensitive and emotive subject, was to maintain the integrity of the event. I realised early on that I personally would be seen as being biased in my view on PAS, and this was subsequently pointed out to me by several ‘well-meaning’ supporters of PAS on the night of the debate, because I hold to a Christian worldview. But of course the belief that anyone is morally neutral is fallacious.

Over 350 people attended and, contrary to what some have implied, they were of varying backgrounds and beliefs. The pre-debate vote showed that the overwhelming majority supported the motion. The post-debate vote was again overwhelmingly supportive of the motion.

Disclaimer "This debate was organised by students from the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) student group at the University of Dundee Medical School. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of CMF or the University of Dundee. This debate was funded by: (i) anonymous donations (ii) group fundraising."

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