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Scottish Parliament urged to back assisted dying bill

In a letter published today, almost 40 individuals have called on the Scottish Parliament to pass the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill through stage 1 of the legislative process. The letter, organised by the My Life, My Death, My Choice campaign, has been signed by a wide variety of individuals, including a number of patrons of the British Humanist Association (BHA). The BHA has backed its call, having long campaigned in favour of assisted dying for the terminally ill and incurably suffering as the only way to allow individuals to die with dignity and whilst minimising pain.

The Bill seeks to legalise assisted dying for individuals with terminal or life-shortening illnesses or conditions, and has a number of safeguards in place to prevent abuse which are comparable to those in use in other countries that have already legalised assisted dying. It is currently being considered by the Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee. After the Committee has produced a report, the whole of Parliament will vote on whether the bill should proceed to the second stage, at which point it can undergo line-by-line scrutiny and be subject to amendments.

The text of the letter reads:

As individuals with a variety of backgrounds including medicine, philosophy, religion and science, we believe our elected representatives must confront one of the most difficult issues we will all face. Namely, how our lives might come to an end.

Parliament rarely has the opportunity to consider this matter. It is important that when the chance arises to formally do so, Parliamentary process does not bring such a discourse to a premature end.

Should MSPs conclude that the Bill is insufficiently robust, or that Scotland should not adopt such a measure, the opportunity will nonetheless have been taken to debate that aspect of care at the end of life. This includes its physical, emotional and spiritual dimensions. That will have allowed politicians not only to shape the laws of the country but also help mould the ethos of Scottish society.

We believe the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, currently before the Scottish Parliament, should be permitted to continue through Stage 1 of the legislative process.

Signatories of the letter include BHA President Jim Al-Khalili, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, BHA Vice Presidents A C Grayling and Polly Toynbee, and BHA Patrons Peter Atkins, Lord Avebury, Julian Baggini, Simon Blackburn, Peter Cave, Helena Cronin, Lord Dubs, Dylan Evans, Michael Gore, Matt Healy, Virginia Ironside, Michael Irwin, Harry Kroto, Warren Lakin, John Lee, Baroness Massey, Jonathan Miller, Nick Ross, Richard Norman, Simon Singh, Dan Snow, Peter Tatchell and Richard Wiseman.

Last year the BHA intervened in support of Jane and Tony Nicklinson and Paul Lamb’s Supreme Court case seeking to have assisted dying legalised, but disappointingly that case was dismissed with the court looking to Parliament to resolve the issue.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We very much hope that the Scottish Parliament allows this bill to be subject to full scrutiny by passing it through the first stage of the legislative process – much as a comparable bill in the UK House of Lords was able to progress last year.

‘For individuals who are of sound mind but terminally ill or incurably suffering, it is the only compassionate choice that we offer them the option to have assistance to end their lives, if that is their settled and un-coerced wish. Over 80% of the public agrees with this view and it is past time that a Government in the UK legislates to make this reality.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Director of Public Affairs at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

Read the My Life, My Death, My Choice campaign’s statement: http://www.lifedeathchoice.org.uk/news/news/cross-section-of-society-urges-msps-to-back-assisted-suicide-legislation/

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on Assisted Dying: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/assisted-dying/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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