ESS member Dr Gordon Drummond educates in the Scotsman.


Is it merciful to end a person’s life?

Published on 07/11/2012 00:53

David Robertson, considering the right to die, has 
assembled false contrasts to argue that people have 
limited autonomy (Letters, 6 
November). For sure, Mr Robertson did not choose to be born, and if he were to choose to break the law, he might be imprisoned with some loss of his 

But in other respects he has substantial autonomous rights, including an almost complete choice not to 
receive any sort of medical treatment that he did not wish.

His doctor does not have to hold his life sacred: she has an ethical obligation to respect Mr Robertson’s wish, if she were convinced that it was sincere.

This is nothing whatsoever to do with Christian rights (nor the false antitheses, pagan or material, that Mr Robertson uses to muddy the water), nor with the personal beliefs of doctors: they are obliged to follow ethical guidelines expected of their profession.

If they cannot, they have both the autonomy and the moral obligation to refer their patients to a doctor who can. Autonomy trumps most rights, if it does no harm to others.

(Dr) Gordon

Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer

Dept of Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine

Royal Infirmary


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