Will Scotland become the first jurisdiction in the United Kingdom to legalise “assisted dying”? According to a report in the BMJ, a bill introduced in June in Holyrood has better chances than previous attempts.
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur’s proposal would permit terminally ill and mentally competent adults the option of medically assisted dying. Other MSPs 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.”
In 2010 an assisted dying bill was defeated by a margin of 85-16 and in 2015 by a margin of 82-36. However, MSPs elected in May may be more sympathetic.
The bill 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.
It states: "The shift from preserving life to taking life is enormous and should not be minimised. The prohibition of killing is present in almost all civilised societies due the immeasurable worth of every human life. Everyone has a right to life under Article 1 of The Human Rights Act 1998 such that no-one should be deprived of that life intentionally."
Although the position of medical organisations is gradually shifting towards legalisation, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Association for Palliative Medicine, and the Church of Scotland remain opposed.
Change is not imminent. There will be a public consolation in the coming months and then details of proposed bill will published. Voting is unlikely before early 2022. If it is successful, it would become effective before 2023.
MSPs will probably have a conscience vote.
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge
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