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Dignity in Dying Scotland welcome introduction of new Assisted Dying Bill in Scottish Parliament

  • First time Parliament has considered legislation on assisted dying since 2015
  • Recent polling has shown that 86% of Scots want the Scottish Parliament to examine the issue and 75% want this done within two years.

Today, Monday 21st June, Liam McArthur MSP for Orkney will lodge proposals in the Scottish Parliament for a new Members Bill which seeks to change the law on assisted dying in Scotland.

The bill would legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults, a change supported by 87% of the Scottish public. It will be the first time the Parliament has considered the issue since 2015. Recent polling has shown that 86% of Scots want the Scottish Parliament to examine the issue and 75% want this done within two years.

Responding to the lodging of the Assisted Dying Scotland Bill proposal, Ally Thomson, Director of Dignity in Dying Scotland said

“This represents a watershed moment for dying Scots. Momentum on changing the law to allow our dying citizens the right to a peaceful assisted death has been building and it is clear that the current blanket ban is unjust and unsustainable. Given the majority of Scots support the proposals and want the Parliament to take swift action this is clearly the right bill at the right time. So many families across Scotland have spoke out about the injustice of the current law and the suffering it permits.  It is right that their voices have been heard.

There is rigorous research and robust evidence from across the world to show that legalising assisted dying is the compassionate and safe thing to do.  I am delighted to welcome the introduction of the Bill and urge MSPs to listen to the people of Scotland, examine the evidence before them and back this Bill.’

 Amanda Ward, Chief Executive of Friends at the End, said:

“It has been a long road from Patrick Harvie’s 2015 attempt to change the law on assisted dying to the launch of this bill. In that time too many Scots have faced a painful and undignified death. Our new cohort of MSPs are not willing to accept this and have rightfully grasped the nettle with values of compassion and empathy driving the momentum for change.”

“Insurmountable Scotland specific research, stakeholder engagement and interaction with those with lived experience means that this new bill is one that balances the wish of many dying people to have the choice of ending their life whilst providing safeguards  and clarifies the law in this most important area.”

“We could not be more pleased that the time for change has come and we will continue to work closely with Liam McArthur, our steering group of MSPs, the Cross Party Group and our partners HSS and DID to support this process to change the law”

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive of Humanist Society Scotland said:

“We are delighted to back Liam’s proposal to bring a compassionate choice to dying people. Humanists, both in Scotland and globally, have long been at the forefront of the campaign for assisted dying laws.

“People at the end of their life need to be listened to and have their choices respected. The current practice of ignoring the demand for assisted dying at home but allowing people well and rich enough to travel to a private clinic abroad is simply immoral and without a shred of compassion.

“Given the overwhelming weight of public opinion is on the side of change, we think it is the right time for the Scottish Parliament to consider this issue. Scotland is able to learn from many countries around the world who have passed safe, dignified and properly regulated assisted dying laws.”


Notes to Editors

For more information, polling tables or interview requests, please contact Ally Thomson at alyson.thomson or 07766112463.

Polling conducted by Populus 2019 and The Diffley Partnership 2021.

Assisted Dying Scotland Bill

Liam McArthur is lodging the Assisted Dying Scotland Members Bill proposal with the Non Government Bill Unit (NGBU) of the Scottish Parliament today.

A Consultation on the contents of the bill is planned to take place in autumn.

The proposal seeks to introduce the right to an assisted death for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in Scotland.

Assisted dying is prohibited in England and Wales under the Suicide Act (1961), and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act (1966) which states that anyone who “encourages or assists a suicide” is liable to up to 14 years in prison. There is no specific crime of assisting a suicide in Scotland, but it is possible that helping a person to die could lead to prosecution for culpable homicide.

UK Update (England and Wales)

At the end of April, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock announced that he had commissioned research from the Office of National Statistics on the number of dying people who end their own lives by suicide.

Initial figures released in response to a written question in February suggest that perhaps as many as 14%, or 1 in 7 suicides, can be linked to the deceased having experience of cancer, or of neurological, heart or lung disease. This points to the possibility that many dying people are taking their own lives due to the lack of a safeguarded assisted dying law.

A private members bill on assisted dying has received its First Reading in the House of Lords, paving the way for a debate on prospective legislation – the first in Westminster for more than five years.  Baroness Molly Meacher formally introduced the bill with a full Second Reading debate anticipated later this year.

International developments

In the US, assisted dying as an option for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in their final months of life is legal in 11 jurisdictions: Oregon (1997), Washington, Vermont, Montana, the District of Columbia, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine and New Mexico (April 2021).

In Australia, assisted dying is a legal choice for terminally ill citizens in Victoria (June 2019), Western Australia (December 2019) and Tasmania (March 2021). A bill in South Australia was approved by the Upper House in May 2021 and has now been passed by the Lower House. A bill is due to be introduced in Queensland in late May 2021.

New Zealand is set to legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent citizens by November 2021, following a public referendum on the End of Life Choice Act in October 2020.

In Ireland, an assisted dying bill is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny after a majority of TDs voted to progress the Dying with Dignity Bill 2020 in October.

Spain passed a law allowing assisted dying in March 2021 to be implemented later this year.

Austria’s Supreme Court ruled in December 2020 that its blanket ban on assisted dying is unconstitutional and the practice will be decriminalised in limited circumstances by 2022.

Germany began considering potential assisted dying legalisation in January 2021 after its Constitutional Court struck down the ban in 2020.

Canada introduced assisted dying legislation in 2016.

Assisted dying is permitted in Switzerland, and broader right-to-die laws are in place in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Healthcare professionals

The largest ever poll of British doctors on assisted dying, conducted by the British Medical Association, results of which were released in October 2020, found overwhelming support for a change to the BMA’s current stance of opposition to an assisted dying law (61%), and that half of doctors personally support a change in the law (50%). The BMA’s current position – opposed to a change in the law – is due to de debated at their next Annual Representative Meeting in 2021.