Dignitas back Scotland's assisted dying plans as UK accused of 'outsourcing' issue

Liam McArthur has proposed updated assisted dying legislation for Scotland
Liam McArthur has proposed updated assisted dying legislation for Scotland

ASSISTED dying proposals in Scotland have been backed by Dignitas as the organisation accused UK politicians of “outsourcing this issue” to Switzerland where it has helped hundreds of British residents end their lives.

The not-for-profit organisation, which provides physician-assisted suicide, complained the legal situation in the UK was “inadequate and incoherent”.

With Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur now bidding to change the law in Scotland to permit assisted dying under certain circumstances, Dignitas said his Bill was an “important step forward”.

However, it still had some “criticism” of Mr McArthur’s proposals – which have now obtained sufficient support from MSPs for a Bill to be brought forward at Holyrood.

A total of 32 MSPs at Holyrood have now given their support to his Bill, with Mr McArthur noting this was “well exceeding the 18 signatures needed” for a member’s Bill.

However, Dignitas said that “for many years, the UK has been outsourcing the issue of assisted dying to Switzerland, thus knowingly violating citizens’ human rights to have this choice at home”.

In its response to the consultation on Mr McArthur’s proposals, Dignitas said that the UK has “so far failed to legislate outright for its own citizens despite the fact that a clear majority of the public has been requesting for this for many years”.

It said: “With this, close to 500 UK residents, including 16 of Scotland, have been forced to leave their home just because they wished to have legal assisted dying, which they were able to access at Dignitas.”

The legislation being proposed by Mr McArthur would require two doctors to sign off on the patient being terminally ill, as well as having the mental capacity to make the decision and ensuring they are not being coerced.

The doctors would also ensure the patient was aware of all palliative and hospice care options available, while the patient would be asked to sign a written declaration of their intentions followed by a period of reflection, and administer the life-ending drugs themselves.

However, Dignitas argued that this period of reflection could prolong people’s suffering.

In its submission as part of the Bill consultation it said: “The experience of Dignitas derived from having conducted over 3,200 PSAS (physician-supported assisted/accompanied suicides) is that, generally, people who contemplate end-of-life-choices make up their mind as part of their ‘personal life philosophy’ long before they would face a health situation in which they would get in touch with Dignitas to request PSAS.

“Any timeframe – 30, 14 days, or shorter – leads to possibly prolonging the suffering.”

While it said requiring two doctors involved in the process “may be seen as a safeguard” they said that this “adds an unnecessary hurdle that consumes time which a rapidly declining individual may have little left of”.

And it added: “To only allow access to assisted dying for individuals who are terminally ill (as defined in the consultation document) is to discriminate against individuals who suffer from health conditions that are, by medical opinion, not ‘progressive’ and ‘reasonably expected to cause death’.”

Mr McArthur said: “I am immensely grateful to everyone who took time to share their views as part of the public consultation on my proposals, particularly those who shared their personal experiences. This will help inform and shape any future bill.

“It is important that in looking to change the law to allow for the choice of an assisted death for adults with a terminal illness and mental capacity that we strike a balance between safety and compassion.

"Having effective and proportionate safeguards in place helps achieve that vital balance.”