What does the Assisted Dying Bill for Scotland say?

MSP Liam McArthur published a Member’s Bill on Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) on 28th March 2024. Here’s what you need to know:

What does the Bill say?

The Bill, if passed into law, will enable mentally competent adults, who are terminally ill, to be provided with assistance to end their life, at their request. A person is terminally ill if they have an advanced and progressive disease, illness or condition from which they are unable to recover, and that can reasonably be expected to cause their premature death. This Bill specifically does not allow assisted dying for persons with any illness, condition, or disability, either physical or mental, other than terminal illness.

You can read the Bill and accompanying notes here: Overview | Scottish Parliament Website

Who will be eligible for an assisted death?

The eligibility criteria set out in the Bill for a person to be provided with lawful assistance in ending their own life are as follows:

  • That the person has an advanced terminal illness;
  • That they have suitable capacity to request an assisted death;
  • That they are seeking an assisted death voluntarily and have not been coerced or pressured by any other person into making a request, and;
  • That they have been ordinarily resident in Scotland for at least 12 months and are registered with a Scottish medical practice.

What safeguards are in place?

This Bill specifically does not allow assisted dying for persons with any illness, condition, or disability, either physical or mental, other than terminal illness. The people who can access an assisted death are already going to die.

Two independent medical practitioners will need to independently confirm the person applying for an assisted death has an advanced terminal illness, is capable of making an informed decision and is not being pressured or coerced into applying for an assisted death. The medical practitioners will have to refer the person applying on for specialist assessment if they have doubts on any of these points. The medical practitioners will have to explain alternative options to the person applying, such as other treatments or palliative care.

If the medical practitioners approve the request, a 14 day waiting period will start, after which the person needs to make their second request for an assisted death. The waiting period can be shortened if the person’s death is imminent.

Once all the conditions are satisfied, the medical practitioner or another authorised health professional may provide the person with the approved substance to end their life. They remain with the person until they have died. If the substance is not used, it is removed from the premises. The person can change their mind at any stage of the process.

No individual medical or healthcare practitioner will be compelled to participate in the assisted dying process. The Bill makes it a criminal offence to coerce someone into an assisted death.

The full process of an assisted death will be documented and Public Health Scotland will make an annual report to Scottish Ministers detailing all relevant information on the implementation of the Act.

Is this the same as euthanasia and assisted suicide?

Assisted dying, as explained in this Bill, is when a healthcare professional assists a person who is already dying to end their own life. The person will have to administer the life-ending substance themselves and they have to be assessed as being mentally competent to make an informed decision to end their life. Euthanasia is when another person administers a life-ending substance to someone else to end their suffering. Suicide is when someone ends their life themselves without medical assistance. Both euthanasia and assisting with a suicide are not legalised with this Bill and could result in a prosecution for murder, culpable homicide, assault, and/or breach of the peace in Scotland, even if the person expresses their wish to die and asks for your help.

Why isn’t palliative care enough?

The very best palliative care cannot prevent all pain and suffering. For some people, this pain and suffering can be extreme, and is very difficult for family and friends to witness. The recent House of Commons inquiry into assisted dying concluded that palliative care alone cannot relieve all suffering and that it would be ‘arrogant’ to suggest so. The report also showed that palliative care provision had improved after assisted dying was legalised.

Palliative care and assisted dying can go hand in hand to create a better end-of-life care system for dying people.

Friends at the End supports improved palliative care as well as assisted dying. We can help people nearing the end of their life and their loved ones with support, advanced directives, will writing and counselling. Get in touch if these may be of help for you.

What happens next?

Stage 1: The Bill is considered by one or more of the committees at the Scottish Parliament. The committee take evidence and scrutinise the Bill before providing recommendations. Thereafter, MSPs debate the Bill in Parliament and are asked to vote to approve the principle of the Bill. If more MSPs vote for the Bill than against, it proceeds to Stage 2. If not, the Bill fails. If the Bill requires a financial resolution (i.e. will cost more than around £500,000) then no proceedings can take place after Stage 1 until the Parliament has agreed the resolution. Only the Scottish Government can lodge a resolution.

Stage 2: MSPs can propose amendments to the Bill. The amendments are debated and decided on by the committee. Only the committee members can vote on amendments at this stage. If any amendments are agreed to at Stage 2, a new (amended) version of the Bill is published. This is the version considered at Stage 3.

Stage 3: MSPs can propose further amendments to the Bill. These are debated and decided on in the Debating Chamber, and at this stage all MSPs can vote on them. There is then a debate and vote on whether to pass the finalised Bill. If the Bill is not passed, it falls and can’t become law. If it passes, it proceeds to Royal Assent.

Royal assent: The Bill gets formal agreement by the King and becomes an Act of the Scottish Parliament.

How can I help?

  • Contact your local MSP.
    It is really important for MSPs to hear from their constituents as they decide whether to support the Bill or not. You can email or write to your MSP to tell them your views or to ask for a meeting to discuss the Bill. You can also speak to your MSP at their next drop-in session, if they have them. You can also use social media to show your support. If you would like FATE to support you in contacting your MSP, please get in contact. If you have a response from your MSP, please let us know what their view is. Find a template letter here: Friends at the End call for supportive voices as new Assisted Dying Bill launched.
  • Donate to support the work of FATE.
    Funding is a vitally important component of any campaign. If you can help us in this way, please consider donating. Donations help us to fund research and provide evidence so that MSPs, healthcare professionals and the media are aware of and understand the facts and research that show assisted dying is both compassionate and safe. Donations help us to support those nearing the end of their life and their loved ones with support, legal advice, counselling, advanced directives and will writing.
  • Share your story.
    It’s the stories of ordinary people that inspire our work and keep us pushing for a change in the law to legalise assisted dying. Stories can be powerful agents of change, and often are the reason people change their minds about legalising assisted dying. If you would like to share your story contact us here.