An uopened letter with a wax seal across the flap sits on a table.

Writing to reach you: our unanswered letters on assisted dying to Humza Yousaf and his health secretary

September 26, 2023

With new polling from Yougov showing an overwhelming majority of Scots support assisted dying, we’ve been thinking about some unanswered letters we sent earlier this year…..

The day after Humza Yousaf’s election as first minister, we wrote to him requesting a meeting to make our case on assisted dying. We knew Mr Yousaf didn’t personally support assisted dying and we acknowledged what we believed were his faith-based concerns. We simply asked him for a meeting where we and our fellow campaigners could put our case forward. We also asked that, should Liam McArthur’s Assisted Dying Bill pass stage one, plans would be put in place for efficient implementation by the government.

We sincerely hope that our first minister is not using disabled people’s fears as a smokescreen for faith-based views.

Four and a half months later, on 10 August, we received a reply. Mr Yousaf told us he would not meet with us because he “does not have the necessary detail to discuss such matters.” This struck us as an odd response, not only given the importance of the issue, but because we were offering a chance to learn.

A month later, Mr Yousaf stated he had met with a group known for their strong anti-assisted dying position, Glasgow Disability Alliance. Mr Yousaf stated his opposition had “hardened” over the group’s concerns that assisted dying for terminally ill people threatens disabled people’s rights, pressurising them to die. These fears have been widely debunked based on evidence from legislatures with assisted dying laws like those proposed in Scotland.

Humza Yousaf and Michael Matheson sit in a circle of people on chairs having a discussion. Humza wears a suit and Michael wears a shirt and tie.

Recent reporting from Yougov shows that an overwhelming majority of disabled people in Scotland (79%) support legalising assisted dying. The same statistics show that 64% of religious people in Scotland support legalisation.

There is another possible angle on this story, though. On 24 May, the Imam of the Central Mosque in Dundee, where Yousaf lives, was one of three religious leaders to publicly oppose assisted dying. In the past, Mr Yousaf has described his opposition to assisted dying as “personal” rather than connected to disability rights. We sincerely hope that our first minister is not using disabled people’s fears as a smokescreen for faith-based views.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s Health Secretary Michael Matheson has, in the last few weeks, reiterated his opposition to assisted dying. Our CEO Fraser Sutherland wrote to Mr Matheson as his constituent on his appointment as health secretary in March. Fraser asked Mr Matheson, a Roman Catholic, for a meeting to discuss the Assisted Dying Bill. He also asked for assurances that any new laws would be swiftly implemented. The letter received no reply.

At the start of September, Mr Matheson was paraphrased in The Herald as saying “he felt [an assisted dying] law would put pressure on sick and disabled people to opt for assisted dying.” In other words, he, too, repeated the inaccurate contentions of groups such as Glasgow Disability Alliance. Again, we would be disappointed if one of Scotland’s most influential politicians was using disabled people’s concerns as cover for faith-based views.

Why should faith be a barrier to giving people choice, autonomy, and dignity in the last few months of their life?

Only a tiny proportion of disability rights groups explicitly oppose assisted dying (4%, according to a 2021 policy paper by Prof. Ben Colburn). Most remain neutral. Meanwhile, recent reporting from Yougov shows that an overwhelming majority of disabled people in Scotland (79%) support legalising assisted dying. The same statistics show that 64% of religious people in Scotland also support legalisation.

All this begs some questions for our first minister and his health secretary. Is their opposition to assisted dying rooted in concern for disabled people or a belief that only a god can decide when and how we die? Why would Scotland’s most important politicians repeat the views of an unrepresentative minority of disabled people on assisted dying? And why should faith be a barrier to giving people choice, autonomy, and dignity in the last few months of their life?

Tell your MSP the Time is Now for an Assisted Dying law

Please help us reach every MSP in Scotland to ask them to support Liam McArthur’s Assisted Dying bill in Scotland.

Image 1 C. Justin Henry/Creative Commons. Image 2. Humza Yousaf and Michael Matheson meet health and social-care staff. Scottish Government/Creative Commons.

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