Addiction charity lead: ‘Assisted dying’ endangers the people I serve

People struggling with drug or alcohol addiction would be at risk under an assisted suicide law in Scotland, the CEO of an addiction charity has warned.

Annemarie Ward, CEO of FAVOR UK, says ‘assisted dying’ would “open the door to new, terrifying injustices against the people I serve, and other groups in society”.

Writing for The Herald, the addiction expert said a Bill before Holyrood “makes no provision for [assisted death] to be limited if a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol”.

Whilst Scots suffering with a mental disorder are not supposed to be eligible for an assisted death under the legislation, Explanatory Notes state that:

“A person is not suffering from a mental disorder only due to…dependence on, or use of, alcohol and/or drugs, [and] behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any other person, or by acting as no prudent person would act. This means, in particular, that a terminally ill adult should not be deemed as lacking capacity on the basis that their decision seems unwise.”

Ms Ward states:

“The meaning is clear: a person’s eligibility for assisted death should not be denied because of addiction to drugs or alcohol. This is staggering. Every professional, family member, and friend of a person in the grip of addiction will tell you that their judgment is severely affected.

“It would be a dark irony if vulnerable people who have spent years trying to escape drug addiction are deemed eligible to die by ingesting lethal drugs because the state does not consider them vulnerable enough to be protected.”

She continues:

“It’s also troubling that doctors’ assessments outlined in the Bill do not require consideration of people’s wider circumstances. It’s obvious that a person who is deemed eligible for assisted suicide under the Bill’s broad definition of terminal illness will be influenced by various factors, including their experience of drugs and alcohol – perhaps stretching back years.

“A woman who lacks a strong support network who has relapsed repeatedly may feel that she has no prospect of happiness in the months or years ahead of her and choose assisted death. This scenario is made more likely in a context where support for drug and alcohol addiction is inadequate. Nothing in the Bill as it stands would prevent a tragic death of this kind. Nor a death that was influenced by poverty, acute loneliness, or other factors.

“Proponents of the Bill talk of ‘safeguards’ but there are simply no guarantees, whether we are talking about doctors’ assessment of their health, or capacity, or exposure to coercion. Mistakes and abuses happen, inevitably. An NHS on its knees makes them more likely.”

Ms Ward also cites the experience of a contact in Canada:

“We must also consider international evidence. For example, a friend in Canada knew someone who opted for ‘Medical Aid in Dying,’ not due to their qualifying physical health condition, but because they had relapsed after 20 years of sobriety and could not find the support that they needed to regain their sobriety. People will face this kind of dilemma if ‘assisted dying’ is legal in Scotland. It’s dangerous to open the door to it in a context of such severe inequality.

She concludes:

“In my view, ‘assisted dying’ would open the door to new, terrifying injustices against the people I serve, and other groups in society. It is not safe, and it cannot be made safe. We need to find other ways of helping people who are struggling at the end of their lives. I believe that we can.”


About Better Way

Annemarie Ward supports the Better Way campaign, which opposes assisted suicide, sets out an alternative vision, and provides a platform for marginalised voices.

The campaign is supported by experts in several fields including medicine, disability advocacy, and sociology. Find out more: Website | Social media

Contact us: admin@betterwaycampaign.co.uk