The Scottish Government therefore deserve credit for their recent suicide prevention strategy Creating Hope Together, published with COSLA. The noble aim “is to reduce the number of suicide deaths in Scotland” and to “reduce access to means of suicide”. Crucially, the strategy “covers all life stages” and pledges to “take a whole population approach to suicide prevention”, inclusive of “childhood right through to older years”. This latter point is important, for there are proposals before the Scottish Parliament that, if implemented, would undermine and contradict these efforts.
We speak of course of Liam McArthur’s proposed Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill. When the late Margo Macdonald pioneered the previous effort to change the law it was called the “Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill”. By utilising the ambiguous language of “assisted dying”, there is a risk of public confusion as to what the Bill in fact proposes. Enabling a sick and vulnerable person to prematurely end their life using lethal drugs is not a compassionate act, and is distinct from acute end of life care. As the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care have said: “The term ‘assisted dying’ is non-specific, confusing and doesn’t reflect defining characteristics of the practice which differentiates it from palliative and end of life care.”
Similarly, Liam McArthur’s own mentor and predecessor as Orkney MSP, Lord (Jim) Wallace said: “Although the term ‘assisted dying’ is used in the title of the proposed Bill, what is actually being proposed is assisted suicide.” Even if, as is expected, the final Bill seeks to define the criteria for so-called “assisted dying” as tightly as it can, it in no way mitigates the fact that permitting a terminally ill person to end their life is suicide. It is also near certain that the “qualification criteria” would expand over time as has occurred elsewhere, eventually normalising the practice.
Throughout the Covid pandemic the entire apparatus of the state has been focused on saving as many lives as possible, regardless of stage or condition of life. This is the principle that should continue to guide MSPs as they consider how best to preserve dignity and care at death. There is an inherent unseen cost to legalising assisted suicide in that the vulnerable majority who currently enjoy the absolute protection of the law will see it taken from them as the ability to kill oneself is actively validated as a reasonable and acceptable choice. The appropriate response is to improve our collective caring response, not to facilitate death expeditiously.
Affirming the inherent value of every human life; regardless of age, fragility or disability, is rooted in the Christian tradition. Long ago, God told Noah that: “Whoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6, KJV). In other words, God puts a mark of protection upon every human life, for each of us bears his own image. The Bible also teaches that we are created (“fearfully and wonderfully made” - Psalm 139:14, KJV) and so none of us exist by chance. And each of us is loved, evidenced in God sending Jesus to die in the place of his people.
The Bible is also a source of solid comfort to those struggling with the apparent hopelessness of life, being full of laments of those who are struggling: “I am afflicted and ready to die from youth up” (Psalm 88:15, KJV); “Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Psalm 13:3, KJV). Yet, in trusting God, there is hope: “his compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, KJV).
Michael Veitch, Parliamentary Officer, CARE for Scotland