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Assisted dying proposals expected to be delayed after ‘unprecedented response’

Liam McArthur hopes to bring the Bill through Parliament early next year (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Liam McArthur hopes to bring the Bill through Parliament early next year (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Proposals to bring forward legislation to legalise assisted dying in Scotland are expected to be delayed, the MSP behind the Bill has said.

Scottish Lib Dem Liam McArthur said there was an “unprecedented level of response” to his consultation on the plans and that “it is right that I take the time to consider all of the responses received”.

The Orkney MSP and deputy presiding officer had expected to table the Bill this year, but is now looking to bring it through the Scottish Parliament early next year.

Former independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who died from Parkinson’s in 2014, sought to take the previous two assisted dying Bills through Holyrood, but the move was rejected by MSPs.

Mr McArthur’s Bill would require two doctors to sign off on the patient being terminally ill, as well as establishing the patient has the mental capacity to make the decision and is not being coerced.

The doctors would also ensure the patient was aware of all palliative and hospice care options available, while the patient would be asked to sign a written declaration followed by a period of reflection.

The patient would have to be able to administer the life-ending drugs themselves. All assisted deaths would be recorded and reported for safety, monitoring and research purposes.

Mr McArthur said: “The consultation on my Bill received an unprecedented level of response and it is right that I take the time to consider all of the responses received.

“I am hopeful that I’ll be in a position to report back on the public consultation and finalise plans to lodge the Bill when Parliament returns after the summer recess.

“It is clear that there is strong public support for a change in the law and growing support too amongst my MSP colleagues across all parties.

“Nevertheless, it is important that the Bill I bring forward is as robust, considered and compassionate as possible as it begins its journey through the scrutiny process.

“My Bill simply opens up the option for adults with a terminal diagnosis and mental capacity to choose a dignified end on their own terms. Such a change is long overdue and I look forward to steering this Bill through Parliament next year.”

A spokesperson for the Better Way campaign, which opposes assisted suicide proposals in the UK, said: “It is notable that Mr McArthur has pushed back the timetable initially proposed for his Bill given the huge response to it. You would expect a strong reaction to plans that pose unprecedented dangers to society, and this is exactly what we’ve seen.

“In countries that allow assisted suicide, safeguards supposed to prevent coercion and abuse have failed. Laws have been incrementally extended, and structural inequalities have been compounded. Campaigners in the UK cannot play down these facts.

“Evidence also shows that suicide prevention in wider society is undermined by the practice. And that assisted suicide itself is deeply traumatic to patients – not painless, peaceful, and dignified as proponents suggest.

“With evidence of huge dangers, affecting the most vulnerable and disenfranchised groups in society, MSPs have a moral and ethical duty not to allow physician-assisted suicide in Scotland. We hope they will reject the forthcoming Bill as they have others in the past.”

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