No room for debate at the Anaesthetists’ Annual Congress

Dr Gillian Wright

“I’ve got three bouncers at the front to usher you away if you don’t ask a question and you express an opinion.”

This was a shocking opening to the question and answer section of a panel ‘discussion’ on euthanasia at the Congress of Anaesthetists in Edinburgh yesterday.

Assisted suicide and euthanasia are currently illegal in most jurisdictions across the world and have been for millennia.  There are reasonable concerns for patient safety and vulnerable groups.

The Glasgow Disability Alliance has warned that no amount of safeguarding in new proposed assisted dying laws will offer “enough protections and guarantees to stop disabled people being helped or pressured to die.”

Yet yesterday in Edinburgh, there was a platform for Liam McArthur MSP to express his opinions and plans for assisted suicide for the terminally ill in Scotland and for a Consultant Anaesthetist, Prof Pandit to express his view that there should be a right to unconsciousness by means of lethal injection but both the other speakers were required to be studiously neutral.

Dr Sadie Dunn from Australia outlined the procedures in place there and stated in her final comments that the only reason that patients seek assisted suicide there is due to fear. Not Pain.

She asked was an Anaesthetist (an expert in technical medicine who administers medicines to make you unconscious for surgery) the best person to assess psychosocial distress in terminally ill patients?  She was 30 seconds over her time and the chair was beginning to physically escort her to her seat when another speaker gave over time to allow her to finish her point.

There were 100s of anonymous questions from the audience, but no opinions and no-one stood up in person to question the process. Were we cowed?  Just astonished?

There is a great need for access to specialist palliative care, social care and psychological support across Scotland. Let’s debate that. Let’s discuss the calls for assisted suicide and the merits and the reasonable concerns. But we cannot shut down debate in the way that happened yesterday.  Aggressive chairing. Express prohibition of personal opinion.  Threat of bouncers. Not one panel member known to be opposed to the legislation. Leading questions in the polling of the audience such that any data was meaningless but fed to the press.

These are ominous times if this is to be the pattern of public debate in Scotland.


Dr Sadie Dunn finishing her presentation
Dr Sadie Dunn finishing her presentation