Scotland urged to follow Canada’s example on assisted dying

Scotland should not be deterred by the isolated cases of abuse in Canada’s assisted dying system, according to a leading campaigner for the right to die. Sheila Duffy, the chief executive of Dignity in Dying Scotland, said that the Canadian model was “the best in the world” and that the benefits outweighed the risks.

Canada’s assisted dying law

Canada legalized medical assistance in dying (MAID) in 2016, after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the ban on assisted dying violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The law allows eligible adults who are suffering intolerably from a grievous and irremediable medical condition to request and receive help to end their lives. The law requires that the person must be mentally competent, give informed consent, and have a reasonably foreseeable natural death.

Since the law came into effect, more than 23,000 Canadians have accessed MAID, according to the latest government report. The majority of them had cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, or organ failure. The report also found that MAID accounted for 2.5% of all deaths in Canada in 2020, up from 2% in 2019.

Canada’s assisted dying controversies

However, the law has also faced some challenges and criticisms from various groups and individuals. Some of the issues include:

Scotland urged to follow Canada’s example on assisted dying

  • The eligibility criteria for MAID, which were expanded in 2021 to include people whose natural death is not reasonably foreseeable, and to allow for advance requests for people who may lose their mental capacity in the future.
  • The safeguards and oversight for MAID, which have been questioned by some critics who claim that the system is vulnerable to abuse and coercion. For example, a recent case in British Columbia involved a woman who was allegedly pressured by her husband and his family to undergo MAID, despite her reluctance and lack of a terminal illness.
  • The conscientious objection of some health care providers and institutions who refuse to provide or facilitate MAID on moral or religious grounds. This has led to some access barriers and delays for patients who seek MAID, especially in rural and remote areas, or in faith-based facilities.

Scotland’s assisted dying bill

In Scotland, a new bill to legalize assisted dying was introduced in the Scottish Parliament in June 2021 by Liam McArthur MSP. The bill proposes to allow terminally ill adults who have six months or less to live and who are experiencing unbearable suffering to request and receive assistance to end their lives. The bill also requires that the person must be resident in Scotland, have mental capacity, and give voluntary and informed consent.

The bill is currently at the first stage of the legislative process, where it will be scrutinized by a parliamentary committee and subject to a public consultation. The bill will need to pass three stages and receive royal assent before becoming law. The bill has received cross-party support from some MSPs, as well as backing from various organizations and individuals, such as Humanist Society ScotlandFriends at the End, and Sir Billy Connolly.

Scotland’s assisted dying debate

The bill has also sparked a lively debate in Scotland, with opponents and supporters of assisted dying presenting their arguments and evidence. Some of the main points of contention include:

  • The ethical and moral implications of assisted dying, which are often influenced by personal beliefs and values. Some opponents argue that assisted dying is incompatible with the sanctity of life and the duty of care of health professionals, while some supporters contend that assisted dying is consistent with the respect for autonomy and the compassion for suffering of patients.
  • The legal and practical aspects of assisted dying, which involve balancing the rights and interests of different parties and ensuring the protection and safety of vulnerable groups. Some opponents fear that assisted dying could undermine the trust and quality of the health care system, and threaten the lives and dignity of disabled, elderly, or marginalized people, while some supporters believe that assisted dying could enhance the choice and control of the dying process, and relieve the pain and distress of terminally ill people.
  • The international and comparative perspectives on assisted dying, which offer lessons and insights from the experiences and outcomes of other jurisdictions that have legalized assisted dying. Some opponents cite the negative and harmful effects of assisted dying in countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, where they claim that the scope and practice of assisted dying have expanded and deviated from the original intentions and safeguards, while some supporters refer to the positive and beneficial impacts of assisted dying in countries such as Canada and Oregon, where they assert that the law and system of assisted dying have worked well and safely.

Scotland’s assisted dying future

The future of assisted dying in Scotland is uncertain and depends on the political and public will and opinion. According to a recent poll conducted by Savanta ComRes87% of Scots support the legalization of assisted dying for terminally ill adults, while 8% oppose it and 5% don’t know. The poll also found that support for assisted dying is high across all age groupsregions, and political parties.

However, the final decision on the bill rests with the 129 MSPs who will vote on it in the Scottish Parliament. The timing and outcome of the vote are unknown and unpredictable, as the bill could face delays or amendments along the way, and the MSPs could vote according to their conscience rather than their party line. The previous attempts to legalize assisted dying in Scotland in 2010 and 2015 both failed to pass the first stage of the legislative process, with majority opposition from MSPs.

Therefore, the debate and campaign for and against assisted dying in Scotland will continue to be intense and passionate, as both sides seek to influence and persuade the MSPs and the public. The stakes and implications of the bill are high and far-reaching, as it could change the law and culture of dying in Scotland, and affect the lives and deaths of many Scots.

By Ishan Crawford

Prior to the position, Ishan was senior vice president, strategy & development for Cumbernauld-media Company since April 2013. He joined the Company in 2004 and has served in several corporate developments, business development and strategic planning roles for three chief executives. During that time, he helped transform the Company from a traditional U.S. media conglomerate into a global digital subscription service, unified by the journalism and brand of Cumbernauld-media.

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