Today sees the long-awaited publication of the Consultation report on a proposed assisted dying law for Scotland. An astounding 14,038 responses were received, the largest number ever for any Member’s Bill in that country.
Support for Liam McArthur’s proposal was unequivocal: 76% of respondents were fully supportive. This is in line with many opinion polls that have shown a comparable or higher level of support for assisted dying in the UK as a whole.
Encouragingly for My Death, My Decision – since what happens in Scotland will have a bearing on the debate in Westminster – many said they think a wider group of people should be able to choose an assisted death than the intended definition of ‘terminally ill’ would allow for. In other words, the law should extend to people such as those with potentially longer-term degenerative conditions, such as Motor Neurone Disease, Parkinson’s and forms of dementia.
A notable difference between the McArthur proposal and Baroness Meacher’s failed Bill in Westminster is that ‘terminally ill’ will not have an arbitrary life expectancy attached – the Meacher Bill would, if passed, have extended only to those with six months or fewer to live.
One of the most common reasons given by the 21% who fully oppose the proposal was a fundamental religious belief that human life is sacred and must not be intentionally ended under any circumstances. We understand that the Right to Life organisation co-ordinated a mass response of similar responses on that basis – no doubt facilitated by the lack of any geographical limitation on those who could respond.
The proposed Bill requires that life-ending medication must be self-administered. A number of respondents made the point that some people who would wish to choose an assisted death would not be able to take the medicine themselves. But the issue is wider than that: in Canada, where there is an option of a lethal injection administered by a health professional, over 99% of applicants for an assisted death choose that. That is an issue that will need further investigation as the Bill progresses.
Liam McArthur now has one month in which to find 18 MSPs to support his Bill, following which he will be entitled to introduce it into the legislative process. In theory the Scottish government can instead say it will take the matter over as government business, but this is thought to be unlikely.
Trevor Moore, Chair of My Death, My Decision said:
“The overwhelming 76% support shown for Liam McArthur’s proposal in Scotland is to be welcomed, though it is no surprise, given what we have seen from many opinion polls in recent years. It is also encouraging to see not only that the proposal suggests no arbitrary six month life expectancy criterion for a person to be eligible, but also that so many respondents support a wider law that reflects what My Death, My Decision campaigns for.
The progress made in Scotland on this important matter of social justice shines a light on the woeful inaction on the part of politicians in Westminster. We urge the Justice Secretary to establish a formal inquiry for England & Wales so that evidence can be heard and scrutinised, with legislation to follow.”