Bill to legalise assisted dying introduced in Scottish Parliament

Posted: Thu, 28th Mar 2024

Reform in assisted dying law supported by 78% of Scots.

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A bill to legalise assisted dying has been introduced today in the Scottish Parliament.

The bill, introduced by Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur, will allow health professionals to assist terminally ill adults to end their life if they request.

Legislation on assisted dying is widely supported by Scots: a poll published this week found 78% agree the law should be changed to allow people to choose the time of their death in certain circumstances. A 2021 consultation on the bill also found 76% of respondents were "fully supportive" of the proposal. The National Secular Society, which supports reforming assisted dying laws across the UK, was quoted several times in the consultation's report.

But the bill has faced religious opposition. Less than a quarter of responses to the consultation opposed the proposal, with one of the most common reasons being "a fundamental belief, often founded in a particular religion, that human life is sacred and must not be purposefully ended under any circumstances".

Most of the organisations which opposed the proposal were either explicitly religious or clearly linked to a particular religion.

Assisted dying under consideration across the UK

Under the bill, terminally ill adults with "sufficient capacity to make and understand the decision" would be eligible for an assisted death. They must also have been resident in Scotland for at least 12 months and registered with a Scottish GP practice.

Two doctors are required to assess a person as being eligible for assistance to end their own life. Both doctors also need to be satisfied that a person is acting voluntarily, without being coerced or pressured.

Assisting death outside of what is set out in the bill would remain unlawful.

The bill will potentially be voted on next year.

Assisted dying is illegal throughout the rest of the UK. However, prime minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer have both pledged to allow time for the next parliament to consider reforming the law on assisted dying, should they win the general election. Starmer has additionally pledged to allow a free vote on assisted dying.

Laws to allow assisted dying are also progressing in Jersey and the Isle of Man.

NSS: Legislation should be considered "without undue weight being given to theological objections"

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "The lack of a legal framework for assisted dying has led to too many people suffering a painful and undignified death.

"Polls consistently show clear support in Scotland for legalising assisted dying to allow terminally ill patients the option of controlling the manner and timing of their death.

"Unfortunately, the formulation of effective and robust assisting dying laws has been undermined by intense lobbying from religious groups. We hope the legalisation will be considered on its merits without undue weight being given to theological objections."

Reform assisted dying laws

Decisions over assisted dying should be based on autonomy and medical ethics, not religious dogma. Join our campaign.

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