Canadian academic: ‘I’ve seen “assisted dying” spiral out of control in my home country – Scotland must not introduce it’

An academic who moved to the UK from Canada has warned against the introduction of ‘assisted dying’ in Scotland, citing her professional and personal experience.

Dr Ashley Frawley, a sociologist and supporter of Better Way – a group that opposes UK moves to introduce assisted suicide – spoke to BBC Radio Scotland this morning.

Warning that there is no way to “future proof” ‘assisted dying’ legislation and safeguard against injustices affecting the most vulnerable, Dr Frawley said:

“The law in Canada didn’t start out the way it is now. It started out in the exact same way. There was a very long process with stringent checks and balances. The trouble is that almost as soon as the legislation was passed, it began to erode, and arguments were made that it should be offered to more and more groups.”

She added: “There are now cases, documented cases, in which people have chosen ‘assisted dying’ because they cannot afford to live in their community – their disability payments are not high enough, and because they have a long-term illness, they’re eligible for ‘assisted dying’. They’ve opted for that.”

“I think we have to think about the issues with our public healthcare systems, which are stretched and struggle very much to deal with very costly treatments for people. The end of life is also a very complex thing to think about. When exactly is the end of life? And in what context would people feel that the onus is on them to end their lives?”

Focusing on the idea that ‘assisted dying’ is a ‘choice’, she said: “Is it purely an individual decision based on pain? Well, we’ve seen increasingly that that is not the case. It is also about society – about the ability to live in the community, to get palliative care, to get care in the community. All of these things come in to play.”

Citing public attitudes in Canada since the law changed, she added: “Now, over quarter of the population think that we should offer ‘assisted dying’ to those whose only affliction is poverty. And if you get to younger people, it gets to almost half.”

Dr Frawley explained how she had previously supported the idea of ‘assisted dying’ but changed her mind, given the cultural changes she has witnessed.

She said: “When this legislation was passed in Canada, I probably would have been in favour of it. You know, I’m a liberal type. I had in mind the sort of people at the very end of life who are suffering greatly, and I just thought ‘yeah, you know, that’s fine’.

“Then over time I started to realise, as stories began to emerge – not just in the media, but also my own life, unfortunately – that this didn’t happen because we’re becoming more liberal as a society. It’s happening because we’re becoming more blasé about human life and in particular certain types of lives. People with profound disabilities.”

“It’s not about becoming more liberal. It’s not about choice. I think something has changed in our attitudes toward life and death”, she added.

Dr Frawley said a close family member’s experience of trying to access cancer treatment has shown the ruinous consequences of state-assisted death.

“In the last few months [my family member] was diagnosed with cancer”, she said. “There was no sense of urgency. He had to wait two months even to get an update on how the cancer had progressed. There was a very deep sense that well, you know, this is a lifestyle thing and there was a strong sense that he had brought this on himself.”

“We had to fight to get any kind of treatment”, she added. “There was this sense that illness is either preventable or terminal. He wanted to fight but the treatment that he needed was very, very expensive and the doctors were counselling him – even though there was a treatment…they were sort of saying well, you know you have to accept this.”

Dr Frawley’s comments come as Dame Prue Leith prepares to share her reasons for supporting assisted suicide at an event in Holyrood.

Member’s legislation from Liam McArthur MSP is due to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament shortly. It would give adults with a terminal diagnosis access to lethal drugs.

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.

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