• April 23, 2024
 Bill to enable competent adults who are terminally ill to be provided with assistance to end their life in Scotland

Bill to enable competent adults who are terminally ill to be provided with assistance to end their life in Scotland

A Member’s Bill to enable competent adults who are terminally ill to be provided with assistance to end their life has been introduced in Scotland, after garnering support from 36 MSPs, 19 of which belong to the Scottish National Party(SNP).

The bill was spearheaded by MSP Liam McArthur, who will now front the push to actioning what is being called a ‘historic bid’. If passed, adults over the age of 16 who are suffering from a terminal illness and have mental capacity will be able to request assistance to end their own life for the first time in the United Kingdom.

The aim of the Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults Bill is to establish a lawful process to assisted dying in a controlled, safe environment. McArthur believes the bill will be able to ‘avoid the existential pain, suffering and symptoms associated with terminal illness, which will in turn afford the person autonomy, dignity and control over their end of life.’

The Bill would require two doctors – including one with no prior relationship with the patient – to confirm the person is terminally ill and also has the capacity to request an assisted death. In addition, there would be a waiting period of two weeks for a patient to reflect on their decision before they are given the medication needed for an assisted death, which they would have to be able to take themselves.

McArthur believes that an individual has ‘personal autonomy to decide on their medical care, and how their life should end in situations of terminal disease’, and that such persons should be protected in law. McArthur called the current legal position ‘unacceptably unclear’ as there is currently no specific legislation in Scotland which makes assisted dying a criminal offence, yet it is also possible to be prosecuted for offences such as murder or culpable homicide for assisting the death of another person. A
person assisting the death of another could potentially be prosecuted for a range of offences such as murder, culpable homicide, reckless endangerment, assault, or a breach of the peace.

The Bill seeks to improve legal clarity by making it lawful for a person to voluntarily access assisted dying if they meet
various criteria and for health professionals to assist in that process, while continuing to ensure that assisting death outwith the provisions of the Bill remains unlawful.

Dame Esther Rantzen, who has stage four lung cancer and has said she would consider assisted dying, hailed the “historic” move, reports The Mirror.

The TV presenter said:

“The current law is cruel, complicated and causes terrible suffering to vulnerable people.”

Opponents of the legislation have said they fear it would see the lives of people who are ill or disabled being “devalued”. This will be the third time that Scottish MSPs have debated the issue. Prior to this both bills fell at stage one of the Parliament’s legislation scrutiny process after failing to secure enough votes from MSPs in support of the general principles.

There are several key and fundamental differences between this Bill and the previous Bills introduced in the Parliament, particularly in the details of the process for accessing assisted dying and the extent of the safeguards in place to protect those
involved. In addition, previous Bills focussed on the decriminalisation of providing assistance to a person to end their life, but did not establish a legal, health professional led process for assisted dying to take place. Questions on who would have ‘access’ to the assisted dying have changed with the latest rehash, with a focus on premature death.

In terms of a qualifying medical condition, the 2010 Bill allowed access not only to a person who was terminally ill but also to a person who was “permanently physically incapacitated to such an extent as not to be able to liveindependently and finds life intolerable”. The 2013 Bill limited access to those with an illness from which there was “no prospect of any improvement in the person’s quality of life”, that was either “terminal or life-shortening”, or a condition that was, for the person, “progressive and either terminal or life-shortening”. The current Bill only permits access for those who have an advanced and progressive terminal illness which is expected to cause their premature death.

Eve Tawfick, Editor