Disabled Scots at risk over plans to legalise assisted suicide, says MSP

Disabled Scots could be pressurised into ending their own lives if plans to legalise assisted suicide succeed, an MSP who is a permanent wheelchair user has warned.

Pam Duncan-Glancy, a Labour MSP who has been in a wheelchair since she was five, said there was “no safeguard” that could be put in the legislation at Holyrood that would protect disabled people from “bias or coercion”.

She highlighted “do not resuscitate” (DNR) orders issued for disabled people on ventilators during the pandemic, stating that one had been made merely because the patient was deaf.

Ms Duncan-Glancy said disabled people are already “so far from any kind of equality whatsoever” and this would influence decisions to allow them to take their own life.

But Liam McArthur, the MSP behind the private member’s bill proposing the controversial law change, said it had “appropriate safeguards” and was “tightly drawn” to exclude anyone but the terminally ill.

Although two previous attempts to legalise assisted dying in Scotland have failed, he expressed confidence there was enough support now in the Holyrood chamber for his Bill to pass.

The Liberal Democrat MSP argued there had been two Holyrood elections since the last attempt and there had been “movement” towards the plan in the parliament. MSPs are likely to be given a free vote, meaning they will not be subject to their parties’ whip.

Last month the British Medical Association dropped its long-standing opposition to the move and adopted a neutral stance instead.

Under Mr McArthur’s blueprint, two doctors, one of whom would have no personal connection to the patient, would have to agree that a patient over 16 was terminally ill, mentally competent and was not being coerced into ending their life.

A two-week “cooling off” period would then usually take place, before a fatal cocktail of drugs was prescribed and taken under the supervision of a health professional.

A consultation published by Mr McArthur, pictured below, raises the prospect of a death being signed off by video link if the patient is unable to travel or cannot find two doctors to visit them.

Credit: Ken Jack/Getty

But Ms Duncan-Glancy, who was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis at 18 months old, questioned how ‘terminal illness’ would be defined.

She told BBC Scotland’s Debate Night programme: “You’re looking at a backdrop of a situation in society where disabled people are so far from any kind of equality whatsoever, that there is no safeguard I believe that can be put in any Bill.”

She added: “My fear is that you cannot make for all things equal and it wouldn’t end up at that point in time being a choice that was free of any form of bias or coercion.”

Dr Gillian Wright, a former palliative care doctor, told BBC Radio Scotland, the plan gave her “great cause for concern” and it would be “very arbitrary” as it was difficult to know how long a terminally ill patient has left to live.

She argued the change was a “rubicon we shouldn’t cross” and highlighted how similar legislation in Canada had been extended to people with non-terminal illnesses and the mentally ill.

But Mr McArthur said: “I think there’s been a bit of scaremongering around this. More and more people have lived experience of a loved one, a friend going through a bad, painful, needlessly traumatic death and therefore I think we need to have this debate.”

Responding to controversy over his proposal that applications for assisted suicide could be approved over a Zoom video link, the Orkney MSP said that people in remote and rural areas needed to have equal access to the scheme.

“I think something like this, wherever possible it needs to be face to face, but what I want to make sure is that those living in all parts of Scotland have access to choice,” he added.

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