By Andrew Learmonth in Holyrood Magazine
Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur has launched a consultation on legalising assisted dying in Scotland, saying a change in the law would allow the terminally ill to have a “peaceful, dignified death”.
But the plans have met with fierce opposition from faith groups.
It is the third time an attempt has been made to legalise assisted dying in Scotland, with previous cross-party efforts voted down in 2010 and 2015.
McArthur’s members’ bill – which has cross-party support and is being backed by Dignity in Dying Scotland, Friends at the End and the Humanist Society Scotland – sets out a “blueprint” on how to legalise assisted dying “as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in Scotland”.
His Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill proposes a number of safeguards, including having two doctors independently confirm that the person wishing to end their life is terminally ill and has the mental capacity to request assisted dying, and is making an informed decision “without pressure or coercion”.
The legislation would see clinicians ensure the patient has been fully informed of palliative, hospice, and other care options. They would then need to sign a written declaration of their request, which would then be followed by a period of reflection
It would be up to the person to then administer the life-ending medication themselves, as even with the change in law it would remain a criminal offence for one person to directly end another life.
Launching the consultation on the bill – which runs until December 22 – McArthur said: “In my time as an MSP I have heard from many dying people and grieving families who have been failed by the current blanket ban on assisted dying.
“The consultation sets out a blueprint for how we can do this safely and compassionately.”
He continued: “The proposed law will work alongside palliative care and apply only to terminally ill, mentally competent adults. It features strong safeguards that put transparency, protection and compassion at the core of a prospective new law.
“How we die is an issue for our whole society and I am keen that this public consultation encourages a nationwide discussion on what we need to do to give dying people the help and support they need to have a good death. I encourage people to respond with their views and experiences.”
Jim Wallace, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, right, and a former LibDem MSP said the Kirk would oppose the proposals.
He said: “While reaffirming our privilege to care for those approaching the end of their lives and supporting the provision of appropriate care, the General Assembly has consistently and repeatedly expressed support for the status quo with regards to the law which prohibits assisted dying in all its forms.
“The current societal protection of life is clear and to move away from this would involve more than a simple modification of the law and would represent a ‘crossing of the Rubicon’ from which there would be no return.
“This would have profound effects on how society regards those in our communities who are vulnerable, not just the elderly and infirm but also those with disabilities and those who are unable to speak up to protect themselves.
“Our position is rooted in our Christian faith and whilst we recognise that this is a debate which is not entered upon lightly by those sincerely promoting change, we remain opposed to any proposals to amend the law around assisted dying in all its forms.”
Last week, the British Medical Association dropped its long-held opposition to assisted dying, adopting a neutral position.
The doctors’ union had opposed any change to the law since 2006, but narrowly voted to change its position following a debate by members at its annual representative meeting.