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Assisted suicide bill launched in Scotland faces strong opposition from MSP with disabilities

A new bill to legalise assisted suicide that has been launched in the Scottish Parliament has been strongly criticised by a disabled MSP.

The Bill, proposed by Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur, intends to legalise assisted suicide. An open letter in support of this Bill has been signed by 12 other MSPs.

According to the BBC, a consultation on its contents is expected to take place later this year.

The last time assisted suicide was debated in Holyrood it was rejected by 82 votes to 36.

McArthur told the BBC that his bill had “strong safeguards”.

However, Labour MSP Pam Duncan Glancy has warned that plans to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland would be “dangerous for disabled people”.

In a tweet, she explained; “I am deeply worried about this. Disabled people do not yet enjoy our right to live equally. I’d far rather we had a right to live enshrined in law, long before we have a right to die. Until all things are equal, this is dangerous for disabled people”.

She went on: “We need to make sure living is better for disabled people than death. That means properly funded care, accessible housing, equal access to health care & jobs and so on. My fear is that, bluntly, all of that costs more & the government haven’t committed nearly enough money to it”.

Michael Veitch, a parliamentary officer at CARE for Scotland, said there could be “no adequate safeguards” and that terminal prognoses were “fraught with uncertainty”.

He said: “This law will not just affect the small number of individuals who might choose to access assisted suicide”.

“It will affect every person living with a terminal illness, fundamentally alter the doctor-patient relationship, devalue disabled people’s lives, and undermine wide efforts to prevent suicide”.

He added that the experience of other jurisdictions showed that an “incremental extension” of the law was “inevitable”.

Incremental extension

While McArthur’s proposed changes to assisted suicide legislation would likely not permit an assisted suicide beyond the terminally ill and ‘mentally competent’, other countries that have introduced supposedly restricted assisted suicide and euthanasia legislation have seen an expansion of their laws as medical professionals and activists push the boundaries of acceptable practice.

Euthanasia has been legal in the Netherlands since 2002. The law permits voluntary euthanasia for anyone over the age of 16, and children aged 13-15 can be euthanised with their parents’ consent. Earlier this year, the Dutch government said it would be changing the regulations to allow doctors to end the lives of terminally ill children between the ages of one and twelve.

Fear of being a ‘burden’

Countries like Canada, where the practice has already been legalised, reveal that the motivations for assisted suicide are largely social and not related to physical suffering. In 2019 for example, Canada reported that more than a third (34%) of those who opted for “medical assistance in dying” cited concerns of being a burden to family or carers. A further 13.7% cited “isolation or loneliness” as their reason for procuring an assisted suicide.

This experience is corroborated by the Oregon Health Authority, which found a series of concerns not related to physical suffering for people who ended their lives by assisted suicide.

The report lists ‘End of Life Concerns’ of patients who underwent an assisted suicide in 2020. 53.1% of patients were concerned with being a “burden on family, friends/caregivers”. 94.3% of patients were concerned with being “Less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable”. 93.1% were concerned with “losing autonomy” and 71.8% were concerned with “loss of dignity”. Of the total who have died since 1997, 27.4% have listed “inadequate pain control, or concern about it” as one of their end-of-life concerns.

A recent Irish study on ageing found that three-quarters of people over 50 who had previously expressed a wish to die no longer had that desire two years later and that many who do express a wish to die do so for non-medical reasons.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “Mr McArthur presents a false choice between ‘compassionate assisted dying’ and a prolonged painful death. Earlier this month, assisted suicide campaigner Noel Conway had a ‘painless and dignified death’ within the bounds of the law as it already exists. It is not the case that without assisted suicide some people must undergo an undignified death. Good palliative care must be promoted for people who are suffering at the end of their lives”.

“Mr McArthur’s proposal, however well-intentioned, will almost inevitably extend to the non-terminally ill who are suffering as it has in other jurisdictions. It is no coincidence that disability rights groups continue to oppose such legislation.”

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