Liam McArthur MSP talking to an attendee at the End of Life Choices Event this June.

Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney Liam McArthur has launched a proposal in the Scottish Parliament to allow terminally ill, mentally competent adults to gain access to assisted dying. This law would be the first of its kind in the UK, offering comfort and peace of mind to people who are suffering at the end of their lives.

Edinburgh, 8th of September, 2022 –  Just over 14 thousand responses were registered during the three-month consultation period last year, the highest of any consultation since the establishment of the devolved Scottish Parliament in 1999:  a clear sign, on one hand, of the relevance of  the conversation on end-of-life choices and,  as it has transpired, the overwhelming support for the introduction of assisted dying legislation among the members of the public who took part in the consultation, mirroring the results of poll after poll over the last decade,  which suggest  a substantial majority of the population supports the right of terminally ill patients to access a medically assisted death.

Overwhelming support for the proposal among respondents

More than three quarters  of respondents (10,687 – 76%) are fully supportive of the proposal, with a further 244 – 2% partially supportive. First-hand accounts of living with, and caring for family, friends and patients with a terminal illness were commonplace among participants of the consultation. Other reasons provided by supportive respondents included the increase of Scottish people’s rights as well as the belief that a humane society should offer an opt-out of insufferable pain. 

 Mr. Liam McArthur, the MSP responsible for lodging the proposal, has stated that  “It is clear that a majority of people who responded are in favour of a new assisted dying law in Scotland and that the choices we have around how we die is an issue that needs addressing.”

 I have heard from dying people who would very much like to have this choice available to them as their illness progresses. People who, right now, face a series of unimaginable choices and would have peace of mind in their final months knowing that if they need it when the time comes they can have a peaceful death that is right for them. I have also been particularly struck by many harrowing accounts from those who witnessed their loved ones endure a bad death. They sent a powerful message that, even with excellent palliative care, the option of an assisted death would have made such a difference in terms of reducing unnecessary suffering. A safe and compassionate assisted dying law is a law that’s time has come.”

 Mr. McArthur is confident that he will receive the necessary signatures from fellow MSPs which will allow him to proceed with the drafting of the bill that he hopes to introduce to Parliament next year.

Concerns from opposed respondents.

A minority of the overall number of respondents (2,975 – 21%) were fully opposed to the proposal, with a further 52 – 0.4% partially opposed. Among those who opposed the proposal, some of the most common objections included the belief of the sanctity of life under any circumstances, the fear of insufficient safeguards, fear that people would feel pressure or coerced and that such a law would disproportionately affect disabled people, citing examples from other jurisdictions where assisted dying is permitted. 

Safeguards and protections.

Currently included in the proposal we find the requirement of two doctors to independently confirm that the patient is terminally ill and has the mental capacity to request assisted dying without pressure of coercion, as well as the requirement of two doctors to ensure that the patient is fully informed of palliative, hospice and other care options.

The patient then must sign a written declaration of the request, followed by a cooling off period after which the life-ending medication is provided to the patient for self-administration.

Ending someone’s life directly (euthanasia)  will continue to be a criminal offence and every case will be recorded and reported for safety, monitoring and research.

Experiences from other jurisdictions.

Despite many countries and jurisdictions allowing for assisted dying, in some cases with decades of collected data , there´s no evidence to support that palliative care has been negative affected (the opposite is true), or that disabled people have been disproportionately affected, nor has there been any noticeable excess mortality rates that would suggest coercion or pressure bestowed upon terminally ill patients.  On the contrary, most reports seem to indicate that the availability of assisted dying vastly improves the mental wellbeing of all terminally ill patients, including those that do not opt for it.

Challenging old narratives.

While most of these reservations come from a place of genuine caring and concern for vulnerable people, there is a vast body of evidence that should put most of these worries at ease for most people. A number of campaigning organisations , including Scottish based SCIO Friends at the End have been working hard engaging all of these misconceptions and questioning erroneous data as well as engaging in enriching but vigorous debate and challenging misconceptions regarding assisted dying.

In the words of Dr. Sorcha Hume, CEO of Friends at the End and secretary of the Medical Advisory Group to Mr. McArthur: 

“ The time has come for dying people in Scotland to have a choice at the end of life. The harrowing personal stories from those who took the time to respond to Mr McArthur’s consultation show that there are often cases where dying people’s suffering is intolerable, despite the very best palliative care. I hope that politicians will take the time to read this essential report and feel reassured by it. This law is wanted and needed by Scottish people. I believe that a lot of those who are opposed are just one bad death of a loved one away from changing their minds on assisted dying.”


About Friends at the End

Dr Sorcha Hume, CEO of Friends at the End with Liam McArthur MSP

Friends at the End is a Scottish Charity promoting knowledge and understanding of end of life choices and campaigning to change the law to allow Assisted Dying in Scotland and across the UK. 

Friends at the End engages in educational activities such as the organisation of information events and conferences, distributes a quarterly newsletter, hosts a radio podcast and a LIVE Twitter Radio Spaces where listeners can engage with and ask questions to relevant guest speakers, with the aim of improving knowledge about end of life choices as well as debunking myths and challenging misinformation.