About Assisted Dying
Assisted dying is supported by approximately 80-90% of people in Britain.
Currently in Scotland there is no legislation governing suicide or assisted suicide. Friends at the End works to support people to have greater choice at the end of life and to legalise assisted dying in Scotland.
We support the right of every individual to die at a time and place of their choosing. This can be a very emotive debate with powerful and sincerely held beliefs on both sides. We fully respect the views of others, equally informed by compassion and concern.
In Scotland there is no legalisation governing suicide or assisted suicide. In England & Wales under the Suicide Act 1961 and in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Justice Act 1966, it is a crime to encourage or assist suicide. The maximum penalty for this is 14 years imprisonment. The legislation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland does not apply to Scotland.
We assume assisted dying is illegal in Scotland. This is based on statements from the Lord Advocate that he/she would regard such actions as deliberate killing and thus a charge of murder or culpable homicide would be brought.
The Lord Advocate has refused to produce specific guidelines on when he/she would/would not prosecute. Thus we must simply wait and see what the Lord Advocate chooses to do – and how the courts respond – after the fact. This is despite all other UK jurisdictions having produced offence specific guidance in light of a court judgment which said that offence specific guidelines were needed.
Legal experts have described the legal landscape in Scotland as ‘shameful’ ‘should embarrass any legal system’ and showing an ‘alarming lack of clarity’.
Gordon Ross case
Scotland operates under a common law system. The case of Gordon Ross is the only piece of case law Scotland has on assisted dying. It arguably muddied the waters further when Lord Carloway stated, ‘it is not a crime to assist in a suicide’ and this includes ‘taking persons to places where they may commit, or seek assistance to commit, suicide’. He gave no references to back up the foundation of these statements.
For over 30 years research has shown that people in the UK support the view that a doctor should be able to assist a patient, with a terminal or incurable disease, to end their life at the patient’s request. Polls consistently show that approx. 80-90% of the British public believe that doctors should be allowed to do so.
“There is nothing noble about excruciating pain and I think we need as a nation to give people the right to decide their own fate.”
– Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury
Why are we working to legalise assisted dying in Scotland?
As adults we are able to make our own life choices without interference. This means we have the right to accept, refuse or discontinue medical treatment. However, some people have no treatment to refuse/withdraw and their options for a peaceful death are extremely limited. We should have the right to decide when and where our lives end without interference from the State.
Choice in a civilised society should include the right to request medical assistance to die at a time and in a manner of our choosing for the terminally ill and incurably suffering. Giving autonomy to people suffering at the end of life is extremely important. We believe that all mentally competent adults should have the option of a guaranteed peaceful death.
If you are receiving curative treatment you are allowed to request that it be stopped. Similarly, you can request that curative treatment does not start.
However, many people do not have this option. The only choice they are left with is death from refusing food and fluid, essentially dehydration and starvation. We believe that having your options so limited that refusing food and fluids is the only choice is not a dignified, humane and compassionate way to die. The process can take anything from a few days to weeks and is often painful and drawn out.
Many people attempt to end their life with failed suicides, which is distressing for the person, their loved ones and the emergency services who attend the scene. Approx. 300 terminally ill people die alone by suicide every year.
There is an increasing number of UK citizens travelling abroad to have an assisted death. People must be physically able to travel and afford the costs of such arrangements, roughly £10,000. This means it’s not an option for many people. Organisations such as Dignitas and Eternal Spirit in Switzerland, are struggling to cope with the demand from overseas citizens, requesting the peaceful death promised by them. The UK is outsourcing dying and bad deaths to compassionate countries and this must stop.
Many dying people cannot have their suffering adequately relieved, even with the best palliative care. Pain is not the only issue. Many people find severe weakness and total dependence on others incredibly distressing. The final stages are often treated by increasing pain killers and by giving sedatives which induce sleep, the patient slides into comma and then death occurs. This is know as ‘terminal sedation’. Often the patient takes no part in these decisions. Research shows that during 2008-2009 16.5% of all deaths in the UK took place after continuous deep sedation.
Assisted dying is not the same as terminal sedation. Assisted dying avoids a whole period of suffering, loss of consciousness and dignity. It’s a very different experience for both patients and their families and is the result of a competent request from a capacious person, not a doctor acting in their best interests.
Doctors who truly want to do their best for their patients, by responding to a request to end their suffering are forbidden from doing so. Yet many surveys have shown that some already help their patients to die and risk their professional careers by doing so. This help to certain patients takes place out with a legal framework to regulate or record. Increasingly progressive countries around the world opt to legislate responsibly for Assisted Dying in the interests of transparency and accountability. We believe UK should do so too.