WATCH: Liam McArthur talks about his Bill to legalise assisted dying

Orkney’s Lib Dem MSP this week lodged a bill in Holyrood which would enable assisted dying in Scotland. This would enable terminally ill, mentally competent adults to have an assisted death.

Here he is talking about it to the BBC.

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 do this.

He is very thoughtful and wise and will take concerns about the measure very seriously and try to address them as best he can.

I have been a supporter of assisted dying for a long time. I don’t feel that I can say to someone that they must endure unbearable suffering before their inevitable death if they don’t have to. I went to a Dignity in Dying event at the start of the Holyrood campaign where Prue Leith described how horrendous it was for her brother David who died in great pain because of a brain tumour. At that same event, sisters described the intolerable suffering which preceded their mum’s death from oesophageal cancer. I really think that people should be able to choose a more controlled, dignified death.

I do get, though, that we need to make sure that disabled people, who are already marginalised don’t feel even more so. Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy had this to say:

Disabled people need to be treated equally. There needs to be the best possible palliative care. And those things need to happen regardless of whether assisted dying is legal.

Assisted dying legislation has been introduced in every Parliament since 2003. Lib Dem Jeremy Purvis introduced it in that Parliament. Then Margo Macdonald took it on until her death in 2014. Patrick Harvie took her bill forward in that Parliament. The parliamentary margins have been getting closer each time. However, the Government is not going to give it time until there is a clear indication that it would pass easily.

There is high public support for assisted dying in Scotland, but if the Bill is to pass it will need to convince MSPs that the safeguards are sufficient to avoid vulnerable and dying people feeling pressure to take this route.

The next stage is a consultation in the Autumn. Ahead of that, Dignity in Dying is asking supporters to write to their MSPs to ask them to meet its director, Ally Thomson. I hope that they will all take the time to talk to her before the Bill is actually debated in Parliament.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Barrett 23rd Jun '21 - 8:43pm

    We all hope to live a healthy happy life and hope that when it comes to an end it will be without too much suffering for anyone.

    Unfortunately the law, as it stands, results in some people living, or just existing in agony, for weeks months or years. Hopefully this will now be a small step in the right direction and with a large majority of the public in favour of a change in the law, to allow mentally competent adults a peaceful, painless and dignified death.

    Having witnessed both extremes, with one parent benefiting from amazing palliative care after a short hospice stay and my other parent suffering in agony for years, unable to walk, talk, feed himself or carry out any other basic tasks of life for years before he died, I understand there is no one solution that will suit everyone. However we must allow those who choose to end their own suffering the right and power to do so.

    Others, who do not wish to have that right or make that decision, should not be allowed to deny that right to others.

  • Brad Barrows 23rd Jun '21 - 8:50pm

    I agree that this is a difficult subject but feel that the term ‘assisted dying’ is a good description of palliative care – people who are dying being assisted through that process. What Liam is proposing is to allow active intervention to cause death to occur earlier. That is not ‘assisted dying’; that is either assisting suicide or mercy killing.

  • Laurence Cox 24th Jun '21 - 12:06pm

    The real concern with this proposal is that it is the beginning of a slippery slope. The sort of cases that are cited are fairly easy to argue for euthanasia, but if we look at what has happened in the Netherlands and Belgium, where this law was passed nearly 20 years ago, the criteria for euthanasia have been steadily widened with, in the Netherlands, a citizens’ initiative back in 2010 calling for anyone over 70 who is ‘tired of life’ to have the right to euthanasia. In 2016 the Dutch Health Minister announced plans for this to be legislated but it never went further (possibly because there was a General Election in 2017 and the Health Minister changed).

  • Paul Holmes 24th Jun '21 - 1:16pm

    The trouble with the ‘start of a slippery slope’ argument is that we are already at the bottom of a very steep and slippery slope whereby individuals have no effective say over their quality of life/death unless they have the money to travel to Switzerland.

    I would have thought that individuals having such control over their lives would be a fundamental Liberal principle.

  • Peter Hirst 24th Jun '21 - 5:27pm

    Ending your life in this context is the last thing you would want to do. So as long as there are adequate safeguards and autonomy is respected assisted dying is to be welcomed. It is a law that ultimately hopefully its constructors would hope no-one will want to use.

  • John Barrett 24th Jun '21 - 8:50pm

    Another problem with the “slippery slope” line, is that for many it is actually not a slippery slope, but the first small step in the right direction.

    If the Bill passes. Why should a peaceful, painless and dignified end to life only be available for those with a terminal illness? When often it is those who are not terminally ill who will have most need to be able to make the choice and arrangements in our country and not be forced abroad.

    Those who are in pain and have spent years in agony or living a life they hoped and prayed along with their loved ones that it would end would end, but with no end to their suffering in sight, will need to be the next ones to be afforded a dignified step forward, not on the slippery slope, but on the right road.

    I completely understand that there are those people who will not choose certain options if they are made available in the future and I have no problem with their choices. Why those same people think that they have the right to decide for me, what my options should be, is a complete mystery to me. For instance if they have strong religious beliefs and I do not, do they think their beliefs should be imposed on me? Would they accept my beliefs being imposed on them? I think not.

    This should not be a party political issue, but I look forward to hearing from people in all parties and none, why this is the first step in the right direction.

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