Thursday, March 28, 2024

Scotland's deceptive euthanasia bill redefines terminal illness to include people with disabilities

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director
Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Scottish Parliament
On March 28, 2024, Liam McArthur (LibDem) MSP introduced the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill bill that is expected to receive its first debate sometime this fall in Scotland's parliament.

The language of the legislation is everything.

McArthur's euthanasia bill is deceptive. It redefines terminal illness to allow for euthanasia of people with disabilities who are not terminally ill. It provides full legal immunity to doctors or nurse practitioners who are willing to participate in the act. 

I was recently in Scotland meeting MSP's and sharing Canada's experience with euthanasia. Many of the MSP's had been lobbied by members of Dying in Dignity who told them that Scotland will not have the same experience with euthanasia as Canada. I told them that Canadians were told, during Canada's euthanasia debate, the same thing concerning the experience in the Netherlands and Belgium. The reality is that Canada is worse than those jurisdictions in many ways.

Getting to the crux of the bill

McArthur claims that the bill is limited to terminally ill people. In fact the bill does not require that the person have a terminal illness. The bill redefines terminal illness in the following manner:

For the purposes of this Act, a person is terminally ill if they have an advanced and progressive disease, illness or condition from which they are unable to recover and that can reasonably be expected to cause their premature death.

McArthur redefines terminal illness to include people with irremediable medical conditions or people with disabilities. By redefining terminology McArthur can claim to limit euthanasia to terminally ill people while allowing euthanasia for people with disabilities who are not terminally ill.

McArthur's bill is not clearly limited to assisted suicide. McArthur's bill uses the term assistance to end their own life, but it does not appear to limit the act to assisted suicide. Instead it employs the statement -- uses the substance.

Nowhere in the bill does it state that the person must self-ingest or "take the substance." Even in the declaration it states: "I wish to be provided assistance to die" but it does not define it as self-ingesting.

McArthur's bill does not limit the participation to physicians. The bill refers to registered medical practitioners, medical practitioners and health professionals but it doesn't differentiate them. It defines health professionals as:

(a) a registered medical practitioner, 
(b) a registered nurse, 
(c) a registered pharmacist (within the meaning of section 108(1) of the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978), 

Under McArthur's bill it would be impossible to prosecute medical practitioners who have approved and participated in a euthanasia death outside of the parameters or "spirit" of the law. The bill only requires that the medical practitioner be "of the opinion" that the person meets the criteria of the law.

The same term "of the opinion" is used in Canada's euthanasia law. The law only requires the medical practitioner to be "of the opinion".  When a case, such as Donna Duncan's was investigated, the final determination was that nothing was done outside of the law. It is impossible to prosecute a medical practitioner when all they need to be is "of the opinion" that the person fits the criteria of the law. This gives medical practitioners full immunity when killing their patients.

McArthur's "assisted dying" bill claims to legalize assisted suicide for terminally ill adults.

In reality McArthur's bill legalizes assisted suicide and may legalize euthanasia (homicide) for people who are not required to be terminally ill and might have an illness or condition (disability) from which they are unable to recover.

By redefining terminal illness McArthur can claim that he has introduced a "tight" bill with strong safeguards when in fact he has introduced a wide bill that allows doctors and nurse practitioners to kill disabled people who are not terminally ill.

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