Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill

As I am sure you know Liam McArthur MSP is purposing to introduce an “assisted dying” Member’s Bill – take a moment and just think about what does “assisted dying” mean to you?

To Liam McArthur MSP it means to “enable competent adults who are terminally ill to be provided at their request with assistance to end their life”. That means giving them a lethal does of medication which they can take to end their life?

The first stage of the consultation process closes on Wednesday 22 nd December – but it is not too late to have your say and express your views to your own MSP’s. Before you do write take the time to fully understand the issues and more importantly the evidence from other Countries who have been living with this kind of law for some years.

You may also want to take some time to ask Our Lady – Untier of Knots, as this is a very knotty issue full of misunderstands, emotive claims, misinformation, confusing terms, moral and ethical issues, and a clear lack of evidence. More importantly, if this was to become law in Scotland it will change forever our Society. Mr Preston, Former Parliamentary Clerk to the Lord Mackay Committee famously said “we needed to heed the long-standing advice for those sitting exams and ‘read the question carefully’ before signing a blank cheque”. This purposed Bill would be a blank cheque. Our Lady Untier of Knots can be a good place to start:

O Virgin Mary,
Mother who never refuses to come to the help of your children in need,
Mother whose hands never stop working for the welfare of your children,
moved as they are by the loving mercy and kindness that exists in your Immaculate Heart,
cast your compassionate and merciful eyes on me and see the snarl of knots that exists in my life.
Oh Mother! You know the difficulties, sorrow and pain that I’ve had because of them.

O loving Mother, I place the ribbon of my life and this knot (these knots) into your loving hands,
hands which can undo even the most difficult knot.
Most holy Mother, come to my aid and intercede for me before God with your prayers.
I cast this knot into your hands (mention your intention/need) and beg you to undo it,
in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, and for the glory of God, once and for all.

Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us!

There is a very good guide to the Consultation on the Bishops of Scotland’s website, which may help you compose your response to your MSP’s and this Bill: 

You can also watch this short video by Our Duty of Care (A group of Scottish health care professionals): and their website where you will find some helpful information:

The language being used in this debate is used in different and emotive ways and It is very important to be clear about what this Bill is talking about at this stage:

  • Assisted dying refers to a doctor helping a patient to kill him or herself by providing the patient with a lethal cocktail of drugs.
  • Euthanasia is prescribing and administering a lethal dose of medication to a patient (A key question would be when does “assisted dying” become euthanasia, as it has become in other countries

They are very different from

  • Decisions relating to stopping medical treatments or increasing pain relief that may accelerate someone’s death are not the same thing as assisted dying as purposed in this Bill. This is what is called palliative care and is legal and part of good care.

The title of the purposed Bill is very misleading. “Assisted dying” is a euphemism for “Assisted Suicide”. “Assisted dying” implies a ‘dignified death’ will be achieved in Scotland. However, in reality what is been asked for is ‘Physician Assisted Suicide’. The reasons given for the title in the ‘Forward’ to the consultation document does not hold water. ‘Assisted’ sounds comforting and humane for the public, when in truth it means being party to killing or even euthanasia for the professional involved in the process.

You would have seen and heard stories from an organisation called “Dignity in Dying”. What you won’t have seen is real evidence to support their claims as there is no evidence. They use to be called “The Voluntary Euthanasia Society” – you have to ask why? They have spent over £9 million lobbing in the UK for a change in the law, in reality to make euthanasia legal. They have also hijacked the concept of “Dignity” for their own aims. The emerging evidence suggest what they are purposing is far from dignified and can be very painful and take a long-time. This is a message they don’t want us to hear.

Dying with dignity is as Dame Cicely Saunders so powerful put it: “You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life”. She also famously said “You don’t have to kill the patient to kill the pain”. The palliative care community in Scotland has a radically different idea of dignity to the one propagated by this Bill or by “Dignity in Dying”. The point was well made by James Mumford in an article in the Spectator when he says:

“According to the doctors, nurses and chaplains – those with extensive experience of caring for people  at the end of life – dignity means showing people who are dying that they are still valued. This entails not only providing critically important pain relief but also trying to get to know them. Christians tend to oppose euthanasia not because of some creepy lust for agony, but because Christianity teaches that no circumstances, however horrific, can vitiate the inherent dignity of all human beings. And the danger of departing from this conviction, of suggesting to all those who suffer with terminal illness that they have lost their dignity, cannot be overstated”.

Mr McArthur talks about his Bill being very tightly drafted and he does not believe in what has been called the “Slippery slope” argument and he talks about “Safeguards” within the Bill. However, he also acknowledges that he cannot predict or be responsible for what further parliaments may do. The “slippery slope” is very real and it most countries that have legislated “assisted dying” have expended the criteria for being eligible. You can see a very moving film on YouTube called ‘Euthanasia, A Slippery Slope’. This is a film by Bruno Aguila made in 2020, so very current, unlike some of the evidence used in this consultation document on the purposed Bill – Through interviews with medical professionals working in palliative care, oncology and psychiatry in Belgium, this film examines how assisted suicide and yes, euthanasia is radically changing medical practice.

Oregon, Belgium, Canada and other jurisdictions are held up as to why Scotland should legalise ‘assisted dying’ Yet, evidence in these countries indicates that the introduction for a ‘small number of cases’ leads to exponential growth in those seeking ‘assisted dying’.

  • Oregon has seen a 1075% increase in ‘assisted deaths’ between 1998-2019
  • Belgium has seen a 925% increase between 2002-2019
  • Canada has seen a 648% increase between 2016-2020

Similarly, an expansion of grounds upon which ‘assisted suicide’ is permitted follows suit with its legislation. Laws have been expanded in some jurisdictions to include assisted suicide for children (Netherlands & Belgium), non-terminal illness and non-terminal psychiatric illness (Canada). Laws are also being challenged with regards to allowing the elderly to request assisted suicide when their life is ‘complete’ or if they have dementia (Canada). Evidence shows that liberalisation of these laws seems to always follow. This is a serious risk, and can we expect the situation in Scotland to be any different? The ‘slippery slope’ is a real and present dangerous. The only way to prevent incremental extension of ‘assisted suicide’ and potently euthanasia is to not introduce it in the first place. We have to have a real concern for the vulnerable in our society.

A note of “Safeguards” that are listed in the consultation document. Like so many similar laws in so many other countries with “safeguards” have become an elastic law of unintended consequences; regardless of the ‘safeguards’ put in place at the start. There is also a worrying lack of evidence that these safeguards are effective or even verifiable? The “safeguards he has listed are very weak and open to abuse. The only true safeguard would be not to allow this purposed Bill to go forward for full debate as the evidence suggest that all laws are relaxed over time.

This Bill should be opposed on moral and ethical grounds and on what it would do to our society and the professionals asked to engage with the process. There is lots of evidence out there and I would be very happy to help in anyway I can. You can contact me using this contact form:

Contact Me

Francis Edwards, RGN, RSCN, BSc (Hons) (Senior palliative care nurse retired), Orkney.


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
A registered Scottish Charity Number SC005122