On Monday this week, the politician behind plans to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland confirmed that his member’s bill has achieved sufficient support to progress in the Scottish Parliament. The Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill is now set to be considered by Holyrood’s Health Committee. It’s the third time Scottish politicians have looked at a proposal along these lines since devolution in 1999. The arrival of this bill is extremely saddening to many in Scotland. Disabled people are among the staunchest opponents of ‘assisted dying’ and euthanasia, alongside palliative doctors, and professionals working in suicide prevention.
It was particularly sad to hear news about the legislation on Monday, which was World Mental Health Day 2022. An academic friend of mine noted the sad irony of this overlap: “Promoting the mental wellness and flourishing of human beings means holding to a consistent standard regarding the value of human life”, he said. In stark contrast, assisted suicide undermines human dignity by creating a “pernicious exception where some people, coping with some circumstances, get no help”. My friend added: “In nations where assisted suicide is legal, we have seen an undeniable lapse in the value ascribed to human beings”. Disabled people “are not given the respect, protection, and affirmation they deserve”.
One such nation is Canada, where reports of abuse, and discrimination under a ‘Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD) law are being issued at an alarming rate. Only a few days ago, a doctors’ group in Quebec was criticised for suggesting that babies born with a serious health condition should be eligible for euthanasia. There’s a word for this: infanticide. Canada introduced assisted suicide for people with a terminal illness in 2016. At the time, campaigners said it would remain narrow. There would be no ‘slippery slope’. Less than a decade on, Canada’s law allows assisted suicide and euthanasia for disabled adults. From 2023, adults with mental illness will have access. Dark predictions have come true.
European nations are also playing host to terrible abuses. In Belgium, people with depression and children can be euthanised. The country was sued over a mother being euthanised without her children knowing. In The Netherlands, a ‘completed life’ proposal suggests euthanasia for people who are tired of life. Is all this really indicative of a civilised society? Or does it indicate a disregard for human life? The dangers of allowing state-facilitated death are real, and alarming. Scottish politicians need only look to the countries mentioned above to see that abuses occur, and laws expand after political or legal pressure. Once assisted death is a ‘right’, it’s hard to deny it to people who are not terminally ill. When a society opens the door to assisted suicide, it throws open a sinister Pandora’s Box.
In months to come, MSPs will grapple with ‘assisted dying’. Some very deeply indeed. I would ask them to think carefully about two things in particular. Firstly, regardless of where they stand on the ethics of an ‘assisted dying’ law for people with a terminal condition, are they prepared to risk the outcomes outlined above under a Scottish Assisted Dying Act? Permissive changes to legislation, and abuses against the most vulnerable. With strong evidence of ‘safeguards’ failing and being weakened, and laws being extended in other nations, how can they be so sure these outcomes won’t occur in Scotland? The real questions are: how long before they do, and how bad will they be?
The only real guarantee against a future that looks like Canada’s, Belgium’s, or Holland’s is to keep the door to assisted suicide firmly closed. Secondly, I’d ask MSPs if they think a dose of lethal drugs is the best Scotland can offer to people who have been hit with a terminal diagnosis? Is this Nihilistic approach truly the compassionate response Scottish citizens deserve? Or should we instead pursue greater investment in mental health services, world-leading palliative care, and start a societal conversation about improving the end-of-life in ways that don’t involve a dose of poison? ‘Assisted dying’ is not within my vision for our beautiful country. I pray it won’t be in the vision of Scotland’s parliament either.
A version of this article first appeared in Premier Christianity Magazine