Everyone should receive high quality palliative care, writes Shona Robison
LAST week’s debate in Holyrood on assisted suicide was one of the most passionate I’ve ever participated in. The views expressed on all sides were considered, sincere, and respectfully heard by all involved.
A free vote was held with MSPs voting in accordance with their own personal views. Ultimately, they decided not to proceed with the proposed legislation.
The Scottish Government believes that the current law is clear. It is not lawful to assist someone to commit suicide, and we have no plans to change this.
My own view is that an unintended consequence of the bill as drafted could have seen people feeling an increased pressure to end their lives. I also had concerns about insufficient safeguards, unresolved issues around time scales, and questions around the precise role of licensed facilitators.
Whatever your view on the outcome, the debate has been a valuable one. It has helped move the subject of dying away being from the taboo it is too often treated as. Coming to terms with death, and the process of dying, and through grief, our deepest emotions are provoked. This can involve an intense level of distress and a fear of loss of control and dignity – but it is not something that we should shy away from or simply not discuss.
In particular, that goes for our health service, where we must do all we can to address these fears – focusing our attention on end-of-life care, and the quality of treatment that people deserve as they near death.
Scotland has a strong reputation in this area, but I believe we need to build on this and focus on further improvements. That means preserving dignity and treating patients, and families, with compassion.
It means everyone should receive high quality palliative care – tailored to their own symptoms, fears and life circumstances.
It should not matter where you live, or what your illness is. The same quality care must be available to all.
Support and training for staff, not just in the NHS, but also the social and third sectors is vital.
That could mean providing better training for staff who care for people in residential homes or in their own home to help avoid inappropriate admission to hospital and ensure that end-of-life care preferences and wishes can be met.
Towards the end of last year we published new guidance for clinical and care staff who look after people in the last days and hours of life.
We’ve also established a new national advisory group structure, made up of experts, families and staff.
We are committed to developing a new framework for action for palliative and end-of-life care that examines how we can ensure equity of access, and support front-line staff better.
All this work is valuable, but there is much more we can do. By working together I’m confident that we can ensure people – in particular those suffering from terminal illnesses – have the dignified deaths that all of us want, both for ourselves and our loved ones. «
• Shona Robison is Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport and MSP for Dundee City East