Assisted Dying Law Change Attempt in Scotland

Peter Russell

June 21, 2021

A third attempt will be made today to make assisted suicide legal in Scotland.

Liam McArthur (Scottish Liberal Democrat, Orkney) has lodged proposals at Holyrood that would legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults.

Supporters have claimed that 86% of people in Scotland want the Scottish Parliament to examine the issue.

However, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has said it does not support a change in the law to permit assisted dying. It said the majority of doctors would not want to participate in assisted dying, even if it were made lawful.

'A Compassionate Alternative'

Ahead of lodging the proposals, Mr McArthur said that "dying Scots should be able to access safe and compassionate assisted dying if they choose, rather than endure a prolonged and painful death".  

He added: "If you have reached the limits of palliative care and face a bad death, none of the current options available to you in Scotland represent an acceptable alternative to a peaceful, dignified death at home."

The proposal for an Assisted Dying Scotland Members Bill will be lodged with the Non-Government Bills Unit at Holyrood.

It has the backing of Dignity In Dying Scotland, Friends At The End, and the Humanist Society Scotland.

It is understood that several MSPs have also signalled support for a change in the law, including former Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw, as well as Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater. In an open letter, they argued: "The current law does not work and should be replaced with a safe and compassionate new law that gives dying people the rights they need to have a good death at a time that is right for them."

Ally Thomson, director of Dignity in Dying Scotland, commented: "This represents a watershed moment for dying Scots. Momentum on changing the law to allow our dying citizens the right to a peaceful assisted death has been building and it is clear that the current blanket ban is unjust and unsustainable."

'Shortcomings' in Palliative Care

Last September, the British Medical Association (BMA) confirmed its policy that physician-assisted suicide and voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia should not be legalised anywhere in the UK.

It followed a survey that found 40% wanted the BMA to actively support attempts to change the law, while 33% were against, and 21% supported adopting a neutral position.

The RCP does not back a change in the law, although it has adopted a neutral position, arguing that the issue is a matter for parliament to determine. It has also acknowledged that there are "many shortcomings in the provision of palliative care", which need to be addressed.

Its stance was informed by a 2019 poll of members which found that 43.4% were opposed to a change in the law on assisted dying, 31.6% were in favour, while 25% said the RCP should be neutral.

A consultation on the contents of the proposed Bill for Scotland is planned to take place in the autumn.

Holyrood has twice previously rejected attempts to make assisted suicide legal. The last time, in 2015, it was voted down by 82 votes to 36.

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