No higher power has the right to dictate the terms of our death

September 15, 2023

Humanist Society Scotland has today refuted religious arguments put against the right to an assisted death by the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.

On 13 September a representative of the leadership of the Catholic Church in Scotland wrote to The Herald. He said that any assisted dying law would introduce “premature death by insidiously coercive forces,” and that the campaign in favour of legal reform focused on “killing vulnerable people.”

Writing in response in The Herald of 15 September, our CEO Fraser Sutherland defended the need for an assisted dying law for terminally ill people. He also questioned the real motivation behind religious leaders’ calls to block a new, regulated assisted dying law.

Letter

IN Anthony Horan’s letter (September 13) regarding assisted dying he claims legislation will place disabled people at risk; that disabled people will face some form of insidious pressure to end their lives. This is, purely and simply, scaremongering.

The truth is that the assisted dying law proposed by Liam Mcarthur MSP for Scotland is only going to apply to people with a terminal illness. The safeguards in an assisted dying law would protect and support the public. There would be multiple assessments of an individual’s capacity and understanding of the decision they are making and a cooling off period to allow for a change of heart.

In addition, the claim that disabled people need protection from their own decisions is as offensive as it is false. Just because an individual is disabled does not mean they are any less competent or able to make decisions regarding their own life if they become terminally ill. It is opponents of assisted dying, not its proponents, who make dehumanising assessments of the ability of disabled people. Polling shows that a vast majority of disabled people support assisted dying for terminally ill adults.

Moreover, many of the highest profile campaigners who have taken legal cases to the Supreme Court on this matter have been disabled. Gordon Ross, Paul Lamb, Debbie Purdy, Dianne Pretty, and Tony Nicklinson are amongst the many other disabled activists who have campaigned and taken court actions to try to change the law. Lord Rix was the President of Mencap and campaigned for disability rights for over four decades before he became an advocate of assisted dying and called on Parliament to change the law.

Discussion of these matters is, in one sense, moot. Mr Horan, on behalf of the Catholic Bishops he represents, is simply using disabled people’s fears as a smokescreen for his faith-based view that only a god can decide when we die. But the humanist position is clear. No higher power, religious or political, has the right to dictate the terms of our death to us. As disability campaigners have said for decades, “nothing about us without us”. We all have a right to compassionate healthcare choices at the end of our lives, whether or not we are disabled.

Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland, Edinburgh.

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