Assisted Dying Bill will not allow 'assisted suicide' in Scotland and is not a threat to people with disabilities – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

On a long enough timeline, everyone’s life expectancy drops to zero.

Some terminally ill Scots are being denied a good death, says Alex Cole-Hamilton (Picture: PA)
Some terminally ill Scots are being denied a good death, says Alex Cole-Hamilton (Picture: PA)

It’s the one absolute, the one constant in our humanity of which we can all be sure and of which we can do nothing about.

The manner of that end does however vary and all too many Scots are being deprived of a good death. That’s because we have human rights to protect our freedoms in every aspect of life, save one – our departure from it. That may be about to change.

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On the weekend, my friend and Liberal Democrat colleague, Liam McArthur MSP, announced that he will bring forward a member's bill to the Scottish Parliament that would allow assisted dying in Scotland

If passed, it would finally see us join the ranks of other progressive societies, like Canada and parts of Australia, in offering terminally ill patients, suffering beyond the reach of palliative care, the right to say, “this far and no further” and to allow them to end their own lives. The latest poll showed that has the support of 70 per cent of Scots.

Let’s talk about what this isn’t.

Firstly, it isn’t a big change. Every day in Scotland, decisions are made by patients and loved ones to stop fighting and to allow nature to take its course. That might be to cease treatment or to remove oxygen or sustenance.

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What assisted dying allows is for a terminally ill patient, who might otherwise have lingered on for weeks in agony, slowly starving or suffocating, to go out in a condition they want their families to remember: lucid, comfortable and free of suffering.

This isn’t assisted suicide, it won’t be available to people who want to die because they are depressed. To access it patients will require a terminal diagnosis, they will need to have full mental capacity and be assessed as competent by clinicians who are satisfied they aren’t being coerced by others.

They’ll also need to have lived in Scotland for a year, so it isn’t opening the door to ‘assisted dying tourism’ either and they’ll need to be able to take the medicine themselves so that no other person is responsible for their passing.

Finally, it isn’t a threat to people with disabilities. Assisted dying won’t be available to you just because you are disabled, but should you receive a terminal diagnosis then you, like everyone else, will be given the choice and opportunity to end the trajectory of that illness should it become unbearable.

Palliative care, when it is on hand, can deal with most levels of human suffering, but not all of them. Assisted dying represents the final tool in the box of palliative care options for patients at the end of their life.

Knowing that there is a preparation in the cabinet that will make the pain stop is a source of great comfort to patients in countries where this happens already. And that comfort, the knowledge of that option, is often all that people need to get through their final days and many prescriptions go unused.

It is a choice and a comfort that has been denied to Scots for far too long.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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