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Assisted suicide debate in Scotland: ‘Let people die with dignity’

  • Growing calls to make assisted suicide legal for terminally ill people in Scotland and across the UK
  • Two thirds of Scots want to see a committment to including assisted dying in 2021 party election manifestos, says poll
  • Only Greens and Liberal Democrats have a strong stance on the issue in Scotland, with the rest of the parties currently remaining neutral
  • A members’ bill “highly likely” in the next Scottish parliamentary session, according to campaigners

CALLS for a change in euthanasia laws are on the rise, with more than three quarters of Scots (76%) in support of parliamentarians debating the issue after May’s Holyrood elections.

The poll, commissioned by Humanist Society Scotland and Dignity in Dying Scotland, found that 87% of people are in favour of making assisted suicide an option for terminally ill people.

The news comes just weeks after former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson announced that she has changed her stance on the issue – having previously voted against a bill to legalise assisted dying in 2015.

Alyson Thomson, director of Dignity in Dying Scotland, said: “The quality of life matters just as much as life itself.

“We are seeing a growing movement of support for our campaign, and more people are speaking out about the difficult choices which they sometimes face.”

Dignity in Dying Scotland only supports the option of assisted dying in Scotland for terminally ill people.

According to Mrs Thomson, the main argument against their campaign is that palliative care is a suitable alternative.

She said: “We absolutely support calls for more investment in palliative care, but it doesn’t work for everybody.

“Palliative care and assisted dying are not mutually exclusive and people should be allowed to die with dignity.”

“The quality of life matters just as much as life itself”

Alyson Thomson – Director, Dignity in Dying Scotland

Although only the Greens and the Liberal Democrats – who currently hold just ten out of the 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament between them – have a strong stance in support of the move to change euthanasia legislation, Mrs Thomson says “there is cross-party support” from a number of current MSPs.

A members’ bill tabled by former Deputy SNP leader Margo MacDonald was rejected in Holyrood in 2015, and the issue has not been debated in the Scottish Parliament since.

However, consecutive polls are now showing growing public support for the legalisation of assisted suicide in Scotland – with other western countries like Canada, and parts of the USA and Australia already practicing it to varying extents.

Chief executive of Humanist Society Scotland, Fraser Sutherland, said that the reasons for the change in public opinion over time include the changing demographics of the country, and the changing stances of medical bodies like the British Medical Association – who are now neutral on the issue.

He said: “Children born in the 60s and 70s are not bringing their children up to be religious in the same way that their parents did to them.”

Humanist Society Scotland holds a slightly different stance from Dignity in Dying Scotland. In their Last Rights Chater, it states:

Humanists defend the right of each individual to live by his or her own personal values, and the freedom to make decisions about his or her own life, including their death, so long as this does not result in harm to others.

The charter would encode the right to an assisted death, for those who have a clear and settled wish.

Credit: Humanist Society Scotland

New Zealand became the latest country to legalise assisted suicide for terminally ill patients with less than six months to live, becoming the first nation to put the matter to a nationwide vote.

More than 65% of votes cast were in favour of the bill.

However, assisted dying of any sort is illegal in the overwhelming majority of European countries, despite a growing dialogue in many.

Where is assisted dying legal in Europe?

Mr Sutherland added: “The cruel fact remains that individuals are continued to be denied choices at the end of their life in Scotland.

“Yet those rich and well enough are able to access such options by travelling abroad at great personal expense.

“This must change.”

“The cruel fact remains that individuals are continued to be denied choices at the end of their life in Scotland.”

Fraser Sutherland – CEO, Humanist Society Scotland

Calls for a change in the law have been criticised by Our Duty of Care, a campaign group run by doctors.

Dr Gillian Wright, of Our Duty of Care, agrees that individual autonomy is important, but thinks proposed changes to current legislation would go too fat.

In a letter published in The Scottish Herald, she said: “People who are disabled or dependent are of extraordinary value and worth.

“Society should reaffirm this when they feel of little worth or dread dependence.

“When we acquiesce that some lives are not worth living, we are on a dangerous path indeed.”

“When we acquiesce that some lives are not worth living, we are on a dangerous path indeed.”

Dr Gillian Wright – Our Duty of Care

With the SNP pushing for a second independence referendum potentially as early as the end of 2021, and with opposition parties scrutinising them on their records in government – particularly on health and education – it is unlikely that assisted suicide will be a main election issue for any of the main parties.

However, if a members’ bill is introduced early in the next parliament, all MSPs who are elected in May will have to decide where they stand on the issue.

WATCH: A slippery slope? Post mortem support officer Abby Wilson believes that there are better alternative options available.

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