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Scotland started consultation on legalising assisted dying

In Scotland, liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur has launched a consultation on legalising assisted dying. According to a report in the BMJ, the bill introduced in June has better chances than previous attempts as MSPs elected in May may be more sympathetic. Last week, the British Medical Association dropped its long-held opposition to assisted dying, adopting a neutral position.

Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill

McArthur’s Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill has cross-party support and is being backed by Dignity in Dying Scotland, Friends at the End and the Humanist Society Scotland. The bill sets out a “blueprint” on how to legalise assisted dying “as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in Scotland”. 

The 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. 

McArthur: “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.

First reactions

MSPs of other parties back the bill and declared in an open letter, “The [present] 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. It is incumbent upon us to provide a solution.” Ally Thomson, director of the organisation Dignity in Dying Scotland, said: “The time has come for a new law on assisted dying. The overwhelming majority of people in Scotland support a change in the law and now Scots can have their say on the vitally important issue of how we die.”

The bill also has formidable opponents. A group called Our Duty of Care (ODOC) is lobbying against it. A letter opposing the bill has been signed by doctors including David Galloway, the recently retired consultant surgeon and previous president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow, and Professor Marie Fallon, a palliative medicine professor from Edinburgh. Jim Wallace, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and a former LibDem MSP said the Kirk would oppose the proposals. And the Muslim Council of Scotland said it was “deeply concerned” about plans to change the law. Michael Veitch, parliamentary officer for the campaigning charity CARE for Scotland, said it was “dispiriting” that Holyrood was again debating the issue.

What’s next?

In the public consultation details of the proposed bill will be published. The consultation runs until December 22 of this year. Voting is unlikely before early 2022. If it is successful, it would become effective before 2023. MSPs will probably have a conscience vote.

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