The 2021 Scottish Elections have seen pledges on both palliative care and assisted suicide – and campaigners have made clear their intent to press the latter in the new Parliament.
Care Not Killing Scotland's election campaign website allows Scottish residents to identify their candidates and suggests messages to send them to highlight concerns over assisted suicide - but what are candidates' parties committed to? Manifestos of course have many pledges, including on key issues such as social care, disability rights and cancer treatment. Below, we focus on what parties have pledged concerning palliative care and assisted suicide.
'We would develop a new national plan for palliative care to ensure everyone can access the support they need whether they die in hospital, a hospice, a care home or at home. In addition, we would maintain funding for children's hospices and support the Bereavement Charter for Scotland to ensure all bereaved families can access the practical and emotional support they need.' (Full Manifesto)
'We will take palliative care more seriously, reinvigorating the clinical network and adopting a new five-year plan which accelerates the missed objectives of the previous plan.' (Full Manifesto)
Scottish National Party
'Everyone who can benefit from palliative care should have timely access to high quality, seamless care when and where they need it. We will appoint a new National Clinical Lead for Palliative and End of Life Care for Scotland, who will be responsible for overseeing a national strategy for palliative and end of life care that takes a whole system, public health approach. We are committed to ensuring children with palliative care needs receive the highest quality care, equally across Scotland, underpinned by annual public funding of at least £7 million to ensure children's hospice care is sustainably resourced.' (Full Manifesto)
'We will work to ensure dignity in death, with those in need of palliative care and their carers properly supported throughout the process. We will:
'Introduce safe and compassionate laws that allow terminally ill adults the right to an assisted death when the time is right for them.
'Develop a national plan for palliative care, including specific measures to ensure the needs of children are met and children's hospice care is supported.
'Introduce mandatory palliative care training for frontline health and care professionals.' (Full Manifesto)
It is interesting that the Greens chose to set their commitment on assisted suicide squarely in the midst of their palliative care pledges. The choice will not have been accidental, but as leading doctors' groups in Canada have reminded us:
'Healthcare articles and the general media continue to conflate and thus misrepresent these two fundamentally different practices… [Assisted suicide] is not part of hospice palliative care; it is not an "extension" of palliative care nor is it one of the tools "in the palliative care basket". National and international hospice palliative care organizations are unified in the position that… [assisted suicide] is not part of the practice of hospice palliative care.'
Scottish National Party:
'We remain committed to participative democracy and to creating space for genuine public involvement in decision making. Going forward we will run annual Citizens' Assemblies to look at some of the more complex issues we face as a country. We will bring together a cross section of people from across our country to discuss topics such as reform of Council Tax and the role of local government, assisted dying and decriminalisation of drugs.'
The Times quoted our CEO, Gordon Macdonald who said of the SNP and Green pledges:
'It is utterly inappropriate for a political party to make a manifesto commitment on a conscience issue. As for the SNP, it is a total abrogation and abdication of responsibility to set up so-called citizen's assemblies to pontificate on matters that people elect politicians to parliament to decide upon. It is also inappropriate to make any kind of coalition deals on such an issue.'
Scottish Family Party:
'We oppose the introduction of assisted suicide and euthanasia. If choosing death is seen as a valid option, this will inevitably lead to vulnerable people experiencing pressure, real or imagined, to end their lives. We want everyone to feel valued and worthy of the highest degree of care throughout their life. Suicide should not be promoted as a valid response to difficulties.' (Full Manifesto)
Alba, Reform UK and Labour do not specifically address either issue, but it is worth noting that Reform UK and the Greens are both led by members of the Cross-Party Group (CPG) on End of Life Choices - Michelle Ballantyne and Patrick Harvie respectively - which campaigns at Holyrood for the legalisation of assisted suicide. Indeed, Patrick Harvie fronted the last assisted suicide bill to come before MSPs (it was defeated in 2015). Other CPG members seeking re-election are: