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Press Release: Broad Opposition to Scottish Bill

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28th March 2024

‘Criticism has come from a broad cross-section of society ranging from the medical community and health care professionals to disability and human rights groups and numerous faith groups.’

Press Release: Broad Opposition to Scottish Bill



Extensive opposition has followed the launch of proposed assisted suicide legislation at Holyrood.

Criticism has come from a broad cross-section of society ranging from the medical community and health care professionals to disability and human rights groups and numerous faith groups.

This is the third attempt to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland following two failed Bills in 2010 when MSPs voted 85-16 against and again in 2015 when the vote was 82-36 against.

And there has been widespread opposition to the latest proposal.

Influential medical and healthcare professionals including Our Duty of Care (ODOC); the British Islamic Medical Association; and Professor David Galloway a former President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow have been joined by disability and inclusive groups.

The Better Way Campaign, Disability Equality Scotland, Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living, Glasgow Disability Alliance and Inclusion Scotland all oppose the Bill.

And they've been backed by faith and other groups including Humanists Against Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia (HAASE).

Former MP and MSP Dennis Canavan speaking from the painful personal experience of losing four children - three to terminal illness - is urging MSPs to vote against the bill.

Faith groups and individuals are prominent including Dr Sahira Dar, chair of British Islamic Medical Association who works as a GP in Glasgow and Omar Afzal, spokesperson for the The Scottish Association of Mosques.

Also on board are the Catholic Bishops Council of Scotland,

In the forefront of the campaign against the Bill is Our Duty of Care (ODOC) an alliance of healthcare professionals and spokesperson Dr Gillian Wright a former palliative medicine registrar now working in medical ethics, said:

"We have campaigned to maintain medical opposition to assisted suicide.

"Currently the law prohibits the intentional taking of life by an ­individual or by the state. Why is that? Because of the incredibly high value and worth that society places on all human life, without exception.

"The primary danger of assisted ­suicide is that individual lives are devalued by society because they are ill, disabled, confused or that their contribution to society is perceived to be minimal.

"The secondary danger is that ­terminally ill and disabled individuals may begin to devalue themselves because of the burden that they ­perceive they are to society. In a ­cruel twist, possible legislation on assisted suicide, that is designed to empower, may have the effect of eroding the autonomy of the most vulnerable."

"We are encouraged that ordinary doctors and nurses from across Scotland have joined together to send a definite message to MSPs.

"We do understand that there is suffering at the end of life but this should drive us as a society, not to provide assisted suicide, but instead well-funded, accessible, high quality palliative care for all."

Professor David Galloway, a former President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow, said:

"Medicalised killing should never find a place as a healthcare option. It runs counter to every instinct involved in medical training and practice.

"I come to this issue from the background of a career in surgical oncology. I had the privilege of helping manage hundreds of patients with life-limiting illnesses.

"I was able to provide support to ease the process of death via high quality palliative care.

"In every jurisdiction that has permitted either assisted suicide and/or euthanasia, unbearable physical suffering and poor pain control are rarely the reasons people seek an assisted death.

"More often it comes down to a sense of hopelessness, loss of capacity to engage in enjoyable activities or not wishing to become a burden on family.

"Change in the law would not allow a guaranteed, easy, painless, dignified death.

"It would be far better to recognise the importance of providing palliative care for everyone who needs it.

"According to recent research from the London School of Economics, some 54,000 people die in Scotland every year.

"Some 35-40,000 need palliative care and at least 11,000 are unable to access it.

"Surely that is where the focus of our effort and energy ought to be."

Dr Sahira Dar, Glasgow GP and chair of British Islamic Medical Association said:

"Arguments for AS are based on individual choice and control as a means to prevent suffering associated with end of life and chronic disease. In reality, true autonomy devoid of external influences does not exist and will be open to manipulation in an already under resourced and strained NHS.

"Mistakes cannot be rectified. We have grave concerns of the impact this legislation will have on the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society and believe this will deepen health inequalities within the UK ethnic minority communities."

Former MP and MSP Dennis Canavan speaking from the painful personal experience of losing four children - three to terminal illness - is urging MSPs to vote against the bill.

He said:

"I have probably had more than my fair share of deaths in my family, having suffered the loss of four children, three of them as the result of terminal illness.

"However, I found the standard of NHS care to be excellent and the standard of palliative care in our local Strathcarron Hospice was first class. My children undoubtedly underwent some pain but it was minimised by caring health professionals. As a result, my children died in dignity and I do not accept that the option of assisted suicide is necessary to ensure dignity in death."

Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing the umbrella group of organisations, opposing the Bill said:

"It is welcome that doctors are expressing their opposition to the intentional killing of patients by medical professionals. For over 2,000 years the underlying ethic of medicine has been to 'do no harm', preserve life and alleviate suffering by seeking to heal or palliate. For doctors to facilitate the deaths of their patients is to betray their professional responsibilities and will prepare the ground for more pressure to be applied on disabled people, the elderly and others who are in a vulnerable situation to end their lives prematurely.

"As we have seen with the issue of Covid 19 in care homes, it is far too easy for politicians, NHS managers or other bureaucrats operating under workload or resourcing pressures to write off people and make subjective value judgements about the quality of life of those who are elderly or disabled. Some Scottish academics have already raised the issue of the financial savings which could be made in health budgets by legalising assisted suicide or euthanasia and in Canada official figures for savings made from the introduction of euthanasia of Can$140m have been published by the Government.

"The prospect of financial pressures corrupting medicine and pressurising people into an early death, should not be overlooked. Rather than legalising assisted suicide, we should be investing more resources to ensure everyone who needs it in Scotland can access proper palliative care."

A letter is being sent to MSPs from the Better Way Campaign, Disability Equality Scotland, Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living, Glasgow Disability Alliance and Inclusion Scotland which urges MSPs to vote against the Bill. They state:

"In an era when long term conditions are lasting for longer, and health and social care are becoming increasingly expensive, vulnerable groups are specifically threatened by the future consequences of AD legislation. It is not difficult to imagine that an individual's judgment that "my life is not worth living" can morph into others' perception that "his or her life is not worth living". What will be the consequences of that shift?

"The fear that AD as an individual choice will evolve into a societal pressure to make that choice, is real and justified. Changes in the type of people seeking AD show that over time, there is an increase in AD among those who are less well-off and for whom the cost of living actually means the cost of staying alive."

Professor Kevin Yuill, CEO, of Humanists Against Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia (HAASE) SAID:

"Many humanists oppose legalised assisted suicide and euthanasia. If we take the original meaning of humanist - to be human-centred - legalised assisted suicide like that proposed by Liam McArthur is an anathema to humanism. In the words of humanist sociologist Emile Durkheim, to allow any form of suicide 'denies this religion of humanity'.

"Assisted suicide and euthanasia are often presented as shiny new modern ideas held back only by backwards religious sentiments. It is worth recalling that euthanasia was, in the past, seen as a branch of eugenics, another idea seen as 'progressive' at the time. We need to think again - and think hard - about this issue.

"And anyone thinking deeply about the issue will oppose it because: (1) it is not necessary. The case for is built on unwarranted fears about the end of life. The answer to those is better palliative care. (2) It is harmful. As Canada shows, it is being used to dispose of inconvenient (both to themselves and to society) lives. (3) It undermines suicide prevention programmes to see death as a medical choice. (4) It divides people between those whose suicides we should strenuously try to prevent and those whose lives are considered disposable."

On behalf of the Catholic Bishops Council of Scotland, Bishop John Keenan of Paisley said:

"Liam McArthur's bill is an attack on human dignity that introduces the idea into our culture that a citizen can so lose their value that society endorses their life as not worth living.

"Evidence from countries where assisted suicide or euthanasia is legal shows that up to half of the elderly and vulnerable who opt for assisted suicide did so because they felt pressured to end their lives through fear of being a burden. For them the possibility of assisted suicide was less about having a 'right' to die and more about feeling the full weight and expectation of a duty to die. No law on assisted suicide can ever avoid laying such an unfair burden on our fellow citizens especially at the very moment they find themselves most vulnerable.

"When vulnerable people, including the elderly and poor, express concerns about being a burden, the appropriate response is not to suggest that they have a duty to die; rather, it is to commit to meeting their needs and providing the care and compassion they need to help them live."

Omar Afzal, spokesperson for the The Scottish Association of Mosques, said the community was very troubled by the legislative move and said:

"The proposed bill is deeply concerning as it endangers the most vulnerable in society by opening the door to coercion along the path to assisted suicide.

"The starting point in the conversation around dignity in dying must be to focus our energy and resources on providing high-quality palliative care that is accessible to all. Life is an irreversible divine gift and trust; and preserving life is our duty.

"This bill will have far-reaching implications. If mistakes are made as a result of its passing, however well-meaning, they cannot be rectified."

The foremost representatives of two Scottish Protestant Christian denominations, Rev. Andrew Downie, the Moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland and Rev Bob Akroyd, the Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, issued a joint statement opposing the Bill which said:

"It is a procedure which intentionally ends the life of a human being which is perceived to have become unworthy of life.

"However, we believe that no human life can ever lose its value. We believe that every life has an immeasurable and equal worth, without exception. Every human being is precious while being worthy of honour and dignity.

"We believe, as indicated in the book of Genesis in the Bible, that everyone is created by God in his image - an image that reflects and expresses his equal love for everyone. As a result, every life has equal value - a value which can only be measured by the sufferings of Jesus Christ on the cross for humanity.

"It is very important, therefore, to understand the consequences for the Scottish Parliament if it crosses the bright red moral line of acknowledging that, if a life does not reach a certain quality, then it loses its worth and can be ended. It would become a society where the value of all human life is actually unequal and purely relative. It would be a society where the worth of every human life could then be graded depending on its usefulness, meaningfulness, and the amount of pleasure it may experience.

"Assisted suicide must be rejected because it would mean that Scottish society has lost its trust in the inherent value of all human life."

Simon Calvert, a deputy director of The Christian Institute said:

"Those lobbying for assisted suicide may claim they are showing compassion to those who are suffering towards the end of their lives, but the reality is nothing short of dystopian.

"It's well known that those who are elderly, sick or disabled can feel like a burden on their families and the NHS. Removing end-of-life protections would make vulnerable people believe it's in everyone's best interests that their lives are cut short.

"It will hasten the deaths of thousands. Jurisdictions across Europe and North America have invariably seen eligibility criteria widening, often staggeringly quickly and the numbers of people dying rising year on year. Why would Scotland be any different?

"Many with degenerative illnesses or incorrect prognoses have spoken of how glad they are that assisted suicide was not available to them because in their darkest moments they would have taken that option, and then missed out on years of making happy memories with their friends and family. We ought to ensure that people in these difficult situations have access to the highest quality treatments or palliative care, rather than, as a society, telling them their lives are not worth living.

"I wish those campaigning so hard for sick people to commit suicide would invest their time and money in campaigning for improvements to healthcare instead."

Dr Calum Mackellar, Director of Research of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, said:

"Assisted dying denies dignity in dying and the inherent dignity of life.

"Choosing assisted dying means deciding that my life no longer has any meaning, worth or value.

"Assisted suicide undermines the basis of the whole of society in order to fulfil the fundamentalist demands of a very small minority and promotes the idea that if a person is of no use they should be killed.

"Assisted suicide promotes the idea that there is no place for lives that are dependent on others and that to be dependent on others is unacceptable.

"A "Right to Die" on behalf of an individual implies a "Right to Kill" on behalf of society. All members of society will then share in the responsibility of the killing."

Michael Veitch, Scotland Policy Officer at Christian Action Research and Education (CARE), said:

"The evidence of assisted suicide's dangers is significant and has not changed since past debates in the Scottish Parliament. In fact, it has grown significantly given events in jurisdictions such as Canada. If this practice becomes an option for patients in Scotland, the 'right to die' could become a 'duty to die' for those who feel they are a burden.

"Terminal prognoses are fraught. Coercion of patients is impossible to rule out, as is expansion of legislation. Expert doctors warn that end-of-life care would be severely impacted. And disabled people warn that 'assisted dying' sends a regressive message about their quality of life. We urge MSPs in all parties to reject this bill at the earliest possible stage."

Chris Ringland, Public Policy Officer, of the Evangelical Alliance Scotland said:

"We are deeply concerned about the implications of this Bill and the message it sends about how we value our family and friends who are at the end of their life. Rather than providing autonomy and freedom, this proposed law would fundamentally change our NHS and palliative care, creating disturbing anxiety for terminally ill patients about "being a burden" by continuing to live.

"Our membership believes everyone is created equal in the image of God - and therefore terminally ill patients shouldn't have to think twice about whether their life is worth continuing."


CNK emphasises the following points:

  • Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed.
  • The pressure people will feel to end their lives if assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised will be greatly accentuated at this time of economic flux with families and health budgets under pressure.
  • Elder abuse and neglect by families, carers and institutions is real and dangerous and this is why strong laws are necessary.
  • If assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised any 'safeguards' against abuse, such as limiting it to certain categories of people, are unlikely to work. Instead, once any so-called 'right-to-die' is established we will see incremental extension with pressure being applied to expand the categories of people who qualify for it.

© Image copyright of Sean Munson and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence


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