THE Ulster Unionist leadership contest has moved into ethical questions after front-runner Mike Nesbitt suggested there should be a referendum on whether to legalise euthanasia.
Asked during an interview on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show for his views on a patient with an incurable disease who wants to be killed – something currently illegal in the UK – Mr Nesbitt said that it was an issue for the public rather than politicians to decide.
He said: “I’m conflicted on that because if it was me I would probably want to get out of the way.”
The Strangford MLA said if euthanasia was legalised there would have to be protections to “ensure that the people surrounding you are properly motivated [in ending your life]”.
And Mr Nesbitt, who had earlier in the interview proposed a referendum on whether to allow for an opposition at Stormont, said: “That’s one, again, where I think you should go to the people, it’s not necessarily a matter for a politician.”
However, when pressed on whether that meant he was prepared to support euthanasia with those protections, Mr Nesbitt said: “No, I didn’t say that. If the protections are there it’s still a matter of principle that I’m afraid I would struggle to support but I hope that I would never be in the way of my children and hopefully my children’s children when it’s my turn.”
Asked then if he was opposed to euthanasia, Mr Nesbitt said: “Yeah.”
Mr Nesbitt was also asked during the interview if he backed civil partnerships being redefined as ‘gay marriage’, as proposed by the Government.
He also told the programme that he did not support gay marriage “because you have to stand for something”, and added: “At the moment we have civil arrangements which protect all the liberties of people who want to be in single-sex relationships so there’s no prejudice or bias against those people but you have to stand for something.”
Rival John McCallister told the News Letter that he would not vote for euthanasia, which in recent years has increasingly become a political issue.
Asked for his views on people being allowed to take their own lives, or have others end their lives for them, if they believe themselves to be terminally ill, Mr McCallister said: “I’m very uncomfortably with euthanasia and if there was to be legislation coming in it would be what I would call an issue of conscience so we wouldn’t have a whipped vote.
“Personally, I would vote against it. I don’t support euthanasia.”
And, although the South Down UUP MLA and Mr Nesbitt have both supported Belfast’s Gay Pride parade, Mr McCallister said that he also did not see the need for gay marriage.
He said: “The legislation for gay marriage doesn’t apply to Northern Ireland and I would have no plans as leader of the opposition to bring legislation.
“I would imagine that the DUP and Sinn Fein would not either. If they did, I would look at the legislation because the things I need to be convinced on are: why are civil partnerships which give gay couples legal protections not enough and I would be rock solid in not forcing anyone, particularly churches, into conducting a marriage service if it was against their religious views.
“I would be absolutely opposed to churches being made to do that.”
He added: “Not every heterosexual couple can get married in churches – in the Catholic church for instance if you were a divorcee you couldn’t get married there. That is a decision for the minister.”
Mr Nesbitt also told the Nolan Show that the UUP needed to stop harking back to its past.
He said: “We have to start listening and accepting that what’s gone is gone. Nobody is interested in what we’ve done in the past. Nobody is interested in our narrative about how we did the ‘heavy lifting’. People want to know what we’re going to do tomorrow.”
Mr Nesbitt said that he supported the temporary relaxation on Sunday opening hours for the Olympics in London so long as there was protection for workers who did not want to work on Sunday with protections but had concerns about liberalising Sunday opening at other times.