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‘Assisted dying’ can never be made safe, warns disability expert

An expert advisor on disability has warned that assisted suicide laws cannot be made safe ahead of a meeting at Holyrood.

On Tuesday evening, Liam McArthur MSP will host an event in support of his proposed Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill.

The MSP will be joined in person by Dr James Downar, a Canadian doctor and long-time campaigner for euthanasia in the country, as well as UK proponents.

A statement issued ahead of the meeting says Dr Downar will tackle “misinformation and unsubstantiated claims” about Canada’s MAiD legislation.

Speaking ahead of the event Dr Miro Griffiths, an expert advisor on disability and spokesman for the Better Way campaign, said:

“To try and mitigate a slew of bad press, Scottish campaigners have invited a Canadian medic to Holyrood to dispel what he calls ‘misinformation’. The doctor, a long-time campaigner for euthanasia, will argue that Canada’s law is working well. Esteemed experts in Canada would challenge this contention. Palliative expert Leonie Herx has already spoken to MSPs.

“Assisted dying campaigners say that a Scottish system would be different to Canada – stricter and more limited, like Australia and New Zealand. The problem with this assertion is that in other nations where the practice is legal, supporters said the same thing. Intention does not necessarily match outcome – and with this issue, it never does.

“Canada’s law was meant to be narrow and strict. ‘Assisted dying’ was initially for people with terminal illnesses whose deaths were deemed ‘reasonably foreseeable’. However, it quickly became permissive. Disabled people whose deaths are not ‘reasonably foreseeable’ are now eligible. From next year, people with mental illnesses will be eligible as well.

“A similar story of expansion can be seen in Belgium and the Netherlands – countries with long-standing euthanasia laws. Switzerland grows more permissive year on year. In California, assisted deaths have climbed significantly after a mandatory waiting period was cut by 13 days. The direction of travel is always easier access, for more people.”

Dr Griffiths continued:

“Some point to Oregon as an example of a long-running ‘assisted dying’ law that works well. However, experts point to declining health care in the state, failed safeguards, and questionable circumstances surrounding deaths. Data recording is limited but even the data we do have confirms poor medical oversight, and serious complications at the time of death.

“Australia and New Zealand, which changed their laws only recently, are already discussing change. Oz GPs have threatened legal action if rules preventing assisted suicide consultations on the phone and Zoom aren’t changed. And in New Zealand, the architect of its law is challenging a rule limiting access to those with six months to live.

“Supporters of ‘assisted dying’ describe their desire for a narrow, safe law but they can’t guarantee this – no matter how the law is drafted. In jurisdictions with both long-standing and recent laws, safeguards have failed, been eroded, or been dispensed with. When this happens, it is disabled people, the poor, and the vulnerable who are worst affected.

“The only sure way to avoid abuses and permissive legislation is to keep the Pandora’s Box of ‘assisted dying’ closed. There’s a better way forward for Scotland, involving improvements in end-of-life care, greater suicide prevention, and better affirmation and inclusion of marginalised communities. I urge MSPs to choose a path of hope and help over a path of despair.”


Notes for editors

Better Way 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.

A high-quality image of Dr Miro Griffiths is available on request.

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