Liam McArthur launches consultation on Assisted Dying Bill

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur has today launched a consultation on his proposal for a Members’ Bill which would enable assisted dying for terminally ill people in Scotland.

His Bill would have safeguards, including:

  • Two doctors independently confirm the person is terminally ill, establish that the person has the mental capacity to request assisted dying,  assess that the person is making an informed decision without pressure or coercion
  • Two doctors ensure the person has been fully informed of palliative, hospice, and other care options.
  • The person signs a written declaration of their request, this is followed by a period of reflection
  • The person must administer the life-ending medication themselves; It would continue to be a criminal offence to end someone’s life directly
  • Every assisted death would be recorded and reported for safety, monitoring, and research purposes.

Liam said:

“In my time as an MSP I have heard from many dying people and grieving families who have been failed by the current blanket ban on assisted dying. I have watched other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand put new laws in place to ensure their citizens can have a peaceful and dignified death and I believe that the time is right for Scotland to look again at providing our dying people with more choice at the end of life. The consultation sets out a blueprint for how we can do this safely and compassionately.”

“The proposed law will work alongside palliative care and apply only to terminally ill, mentally competent adults. It features strong safeguards that put transparency, protection and compassion at the core of a prospective new law. How we die is an issue for our whole society and I am keen that this public consultation encourages a nationwide discussion on what we need to do to give dying people the help and support they need to have a good death. I encourage people to respond with their views and experiences.”

The consultation, which will run until 22nd December 2021, details the proposals for a bill seeking to legalise assisted dying as a choice for terminally ill, mentally competent adults in Scotland.

New Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton announced his support for Liam’s proposals:

I am proud of my colleague Liam McArthur who launches the consultation on his Bill to introduce Assisted Dying today.

I want the choice, if I’m in agony and beyond the reach of palliative care, to say ‘this far and no further.’

Everyone should have the right to a good death.

This is a subject that is obviously emotive and needs to be handled with compassion and sensitivity. I can’t think of anyone better than Liam to lead the calls for change in the Scottish Parliament. He is exactly the right person to build support amongst MSPs across the parties.

I have been in favour of assisted dying for many years. The experience of trying and failing to comfort and support my mother-in-law during the final stages of her last illness has never left me.

She was in huge amounts of pain and distress.

The Macmillan nurses tried everything they could think of to make things easier for her.

But the pain relief was never enough. And the other symptoms were really frightening and awful for her, especially when she really struggled to catch a breath.

I’ll never forget her looking so sad and disappointed and angry that she was still alive every time she woke up.

She repeatedly asked for help to end her life.

Rather than those desperate and anguished pleas, it would have been kinder on everyone if she had been able to have clear, calmer conversations with the family and clinicians and express her wish to choose the timing and circumstances of her inevitable passing before she got too unwell.  Don’t get me wrong, it would have been hard but it would have been less traumatic.

Palliative care has moved on since then but even the best isn’t always enough to avoid a bad death.

I know that others will have a different view and I take on board what people like Glasgow Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy have to say:

Coming so soon after disabled people had their rights stripped off them during the pandemic and even had Do Not Resuscitate notices put on them without their knowledge or consent, there is no doubt that her concerns about the treatment of disabled people in our society are valid.

We must address that as well, while giving terminally ill people the choice of an assisted death. I don’t see it as an either/or situation.

Whenever we have debated these issues before, it’s always been done in an atmosphere of kindness, compassion and respect and I am confident that it will be this time, too.

If you want to respond to the consultation, you can do so here. 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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11 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 23rd Sep '21 - 7:25pm

    I trust that when this issue comes to a vote, it will be a free vote rather than a whipped vote. Issues of conscience such as Assisted Dying, Capital Punishment and Abortion should always be free votes.

  • Toby Keynes 24th Sep '21 - 9:42am

    @Brad Barrows: “trust that when this issue comes to a vote, it will be a free vote rather than a whipped vote. Issues of conscience such as Assisted Dying, Capital Punishment and Abortion should always be free votes.”

    I can’t speak for other parties, but Liberal Democrat policy is that : “…Liberal Democrat parliamentarians should have a free vote on the Bill.” This policy was adopted last Saturday at Federal Conference; the policy that was in place before this (which I was heavily involved with) also called for parliamentarians to have a free vote on any Assisted Dying legislation.

  • Laurence Cox 24th Sep '21 - 5:31pm

    Caron,

    Can you please clarify, is this consultation for residents of Scotland only or for UK residents as a whole? Federal Conference Motion F15, passed without amendment, was for England and Wales only. I would assume that we would want to have legislation that was consistent across Great Britain to eliminate the possibility of ‘death tourism’ and that means it has to be consistent with Baroness Meacher’s Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Lords, which may or may not be amended by Parliament assuming that it is debated and passed by both Houses.

  • Brad Barrows 24th Sep '21 - 6:18pm

    @Toby Keynes
    Thanks for that. Re-assuring 🙂

  • Brad Barrows 25th Sep '21 - 11:33am

    @Lawrence Cox
    I am surprised at your question. The Liberal Democrats support devolution and, indeed, would move further towards full Federalism. This requires us all to accept that different countries within the UK may come to different conclusions on issues – it would therefore be wrong for people to try to undermine the devolution principle by trying to distort consultations on proposed legislation in other countries. I assume you are not serious when you state, “I would assume that we would want to have legislation that was consistent across Great Britain…” If the ‘we’ you are referring to are people who believe in devolution and Federalism, your assumption is completely wrong.

  • I support this policy in theory, but as everyone is fully aware, it’s a tricky issue and must be done right, so it’s absolutely right that we give everyone with reservations the opportunity to voice them, and to ensure the policy is fully scrutinised and revised to consider concerns and to have all of the necessary safeguards in place, which must include ensuring that full efforts to provide the very best palliative care remain available.

    Health is devolved, so the details of policy must also be devolved, but I definitely see the benefit in having some consistency where practical, even if it’s just aiming to use the same terminology to mean the same thing so there is clarity.

    Concerns about ‘death tourism’ are reasonable, and should be considered as part of the safe-guarding. I would hope that this can be addressed with the inclusion of a residency requirement for the patient and for at least one of the doctors. It is possible that a Scottish person with a terminal diagnosis will have been seen by specialists in other parts of the UK, and that should not exclude them from consideration, but they would also have a local doctor who has a full understanding of their medical history.

  • Laurence Cox 27th Sep '21 - 1:09pm

    @Brad Barrows

    I don’t suppose that you even think about the consequences of what you write.

    I really should not have to remind you that for over 50 years women from Northern Ireland had to come to Great Britain to get a legal abortion, because it was not made legal in Northern Ireland until 2020 and only then because the Northern ireland Assembly was not in operation at the time and the relevant power was held by the Government at Westminster. Yet you, no friend of the Liberal Democrats, deliberately want to introduce a similar discontinuity in this related case.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 27th Sep '21 - 1:24pm

    @ Laurence,

    I’m going to do something unexpected, in that I agree with Brad. If the Scots want to do this, they should have the right to and the obligation falls upon us to press for similar legislation in our nations.

    If we’ve devolved the right to pass that policy, we shouldn’t then stand in the way on this one.

  • Brad Barrows 27th Sep '21 - 3:27pm

    @ Laurence Cox,

    I both think about the consequences of what I write and also the consequences of what others write. From your post, it appears that you only support devolution or Federalism to the extent that the different countries are willing to reach your preferred conclusion – that is not what devolution is about. You may think I am no friend of the Liberal Democrats for pointing out this uncomfortable truth, but you can not both believe in devolution and at the same time require ‘consistent’ policy decisions across the UK.

  • Laurence Cox 27th Sep '21 - 6:11pm

    @Mark

    I suggest before you reply that you read this article in The Guardian from nearly three years ago: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/jan/18/death-on-demand-has-euthanasia-gone-too-far-netherlands-assisted-dying

    For me, assisted dying, like abortion, is an ethical issue (in the F15 debate I was actually arguing that there were circumstances in which the safeguards were too restricting and that they needed to be examined fully before Parliament passes legislation). Ideally, I would like to see Westminster and Holyrood move in lockstep on this. If Scotland were to rush ahead on its own then in 20 years time they could be in the situation that The Netherlands is now, where Government Ministers have in the recent past publicly advocated the provision of poison pills for anyone over 70 who was tired of life. I would have grave difficulty in arguing for the continuation of the Union in such circumstances; better to let the Scots go their own way as an independent nation, like the ‘velvet divorce’ of the Czechs and Slovaks.

    While federalism is fine if we are dealing with matters of taxation, or choices of government spending, or decriminalisation of drugs, to take just three examples, none of these have the same ethical implications as assisted dying, which is why I cannot agree to unfettered federalism.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 27th Sep '21 - 7:44pm

    @ Laurence,

    Might I politely suggest that holding one position is not a guarantee that a particular position is held on an unrelated matter?

    I used to be pretty confident that assisted dying was a good thing until I was given a lesson in the challenges of drafting legislation that protects the vulnerable. Now, I take a more reticent view, in that I support the theory but need to be persuaded that the practice protects the vulnerable. I haven’t looked at this particular proposal yet, so won’t be drawn on whether or not I support it.

    But I do believe in self-determination, probably because it’s a liberal principle to my mind but also because, as someone of Indian origin, I have a rather better sense of what it’s like to be an imperial possession. Scotland isn’t an imperial possession but there are plenty of Scots who think it is – I declare an interest as a half-Scot.

    So, I believe that it is the right of the Scottish people to decide upon a policy, having considered all of the implications, where they have the power to do so, even if I don’t support the policy myself. That’s devolution and, if you believe it should be conditional and that you should be able to set the conditions, it isn’t genuine devolution.

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