Scotland’s assisted dying Bill could see requests approved on Zoom

Terminally ill people in rural Scotland could have applications to end their lives approved over Zoom under proposals to legalise assisted suicide.

Under a Private Members’ Bill, agreement from two doctors would be needed for a person with an incurable illness to end their own life by taking a fatal cocktail of drugs that would be provided on the NHS.

A consultation published ahead of the proposed law’s introduction to Holyrood raises the prospect of a death being signed off via video link, if the patient is unable to travel or cannot find two doctors to visit them.

Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrat MSP behind the plan, admitted that a lack of access to doctors could make an assisted death harder to access for people in remote areas, particularly if a local GPs boycotted the process on conscientious grounds.

Liam McArthur, the MSP behind the plan, said that a lack of access to doctors could make an assisted death harder to access for people in remote areas

Credit: Ken Jack/Getty Images

His document goes on to note that in some other countries where assisted dying is legal, approval by video link is allowed in “exceptional circumstances”.

Campaigners have also highlighted a passage in the consultation in which it is claimed legalising assisted dying has the potential to save the NHS money.

“These are utterly sinister revelations and show a callous indifference for the value of human life,” said Dr Gordon Macdonald, the chief executive of Care Not Killing, a group which is campaigning against the Bill.

“How can a medic make a decision on the state of mind of an individual on a remote internet connection without being in the physical presence of that person to try and make a measured judgment?”

Nicola Sturgeon’s government last opposed plans to legalise assisted dying in 2015

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Under the plans, the doctors would have to agree that a patient aged 16 or over 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 the drugs would be prescribed and taken under supervision of a health professional.

Two previous attempts to legalise assisted dying at Holyrood have failed. However, Mr McArthur has insisted his Bill can pass, with his proposals having already attracted cross-party support and public support for assisted suicide rising.

Critics fear it could lead to vulnerable people being put under pressure to die early or open the floodgates to more extreme legislation in future.

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MSPs are likely to be given a free vote on the legislation. The most recent attempt to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland, in 2015, was defeated by 82 votes to 36.

At the time, Nicola Sturgeon’s government opposed changing the law, although the Bill was spearheaded by Patrick Harvie, the co-leader of the Scottish Greens, who is now a minister.

Mr McArthur said that the public backed ending a “blanket ban” on assisted dying, saying his proposals would offer choice to people who were “suffering unbearably”.

He added: “The proposals outlined in the Bill consultation take into account the very real challenges of delivering aspects of healthcare in rural and remote communities.

“It is a very genuine consultation that seeks input on how to navigate these issues and provides information about how other jurisdictions operate in exceptional circumstances.”

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