Assisted Dying Bill 'strikes fear into the hearts' of disabled people

Plans to table a Bill legalising assisted dying in Scotland is set to be fought by disability campaigners, who say international examples of similar legislation “strikes fear into the hearts” of disabled people.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur is putting forward proposals for a Members’ Bill at Holyrood that, if passed, would permit assisted dying for adults who are both terminally ill and mentally competent.

It is the third attempt for legislation on assisted dying to be brought to Holyrood after it was tabled by the late Margo MacDonald while an independent MSP in 2010, and Patrick Harvie, who took forward the second Bill after her death in 2014.

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A third attempt is being made to pass legislation on assisted suicide in Scotland.

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However, politicians such as Scottish Labour’s Pam Duncan-Glancy who is the first permanent wheelchair user in Holyrood, have described the legislation as “dangerous”.

She said the Scottish Government should ensure that “living is better for disabled people than death” through improved care, accessible housing, and increased funding from the Scottish Government.

Ms Duncan-Glancy said: “I would far rather that disabled people have our right to live protected by the law and realised through practical assistance and support to lead an ordinary life, before we consider a right to die.

“Unless and until all things are equal, which we know right now they are not, then this Bill is dangerous for disabled people.”

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Jamie Szymkowiak, the SNP’s national disabled member’s convenor, said the Bill was a “false choice” and called for more to be done to ensure disabled Scots have an “equal life” before moves to make it easier to die.

He said: “Instinctively I support choice and people's freedoms. However, I feel it is a false choice that people are being presented with, particularly when the assisted suicide bill is being presented in the midst of a global pandemic that has disproportionately impacted the lives of disabled people.

"Once disabled people have achieved full equality in public life in Scotland then, I feel that it is a choice and it would be accurate to describe it as a choice.

"Any way of doing that beforehand is not a choice.”

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Mr Szymkowiak, who is set to launch a campaign alongside other disabled people in Scotland campaigning against the Bill called ‘Not Dead Yet’, said international examples were a source of fear for disabled Scots.

He said Canada, which saw assisted dying legalised in Quebec before being extended country-wide, had reduced the scale of safeguards around who was eligible, including the removal of an exemption for those with mental illness.

He said: “It’s only taken six years for two amendments [in Canada] for the death rates to rise, for eligibility criteria to be widened and also for mental illness to no longer be one of the safeguards that’s considered.

"When you are a disabled rights activist and people are suggested that they’re going to look at best practices across the world, and many of those that support assisted dying and assisted suicide look at Canada, that is what strikes fear into our hearts.

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"I think [the Bill] is not only a danger in itself, but I am flabbergasted at the timing of such a proposal given that we are not out of a public health crisis.”

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