Holyrood right-to-palliative-care bill welcomed

Dr Gillian Wright

Care Not Killing and Our Duty of Care herald new bill, as consultation opens in Scotland.

A proposed new Holyrood bill which would give people living with terminal illness a legal right to palliative care has won the support of medics who oppose the proposed assisted suicide legislation being drawn up by LibDem MSP Liam McArthur.

A consultation process was launched yesterday by Lothian MSP Miles Briggs who is behind the initiative.

His Member’s Bill would give people of all ages living with terminal illness and residing in Scotland a legal right to palliative care.

It won immediate backing from Dr Gillian Wright, spokesperson for Our Duty of Care (ODOC), which represents Scottish health care professionals from a variety of specialities.

She said:

“We welcome the bill proposed by Miles Briggs. Instead of allowing people to kill themselves we desperately need to invest our resources, creativity, ideas and funding not in helping people die but in helping them live until they die.

“Palliative care offers physical, emotional and practical support to people with a terminal illness. Many people in Scotland do not have 24/7 access to this care and we welcome this move to ensure access for all.”


She also highlighted a motion passed earlier this week, at the BMA Consultants’ Conference, which was critical of assisted suicide.

The motion states:

“That this conference notes the ongoing media and political pressure to legalise assisted dying in the UK, and the assumption that this will be carried out in health care facilities.

“It further notes the clear evidence from the BMA’s 2020 assisted dying survey, which shows most doctors, and an even greater majority of consultants, are unwilling to either be involved in the prescribing of drugs for assisted suicide or in performing euthanasia.

“It reaffirms the Hippocratic principle of “doing no hurt or damage to our patients, and refusing to administer poison to anyone”.

“It urges the BMA to ensure that consultants are not expected to be involved in provision of assisted dying in any way.


In his consultation document Mr Briggs states:

“Scotland should be a place where dying, death and bereavement are talked about openly, people can plan and discuss their care wishes, and everyone affected has the best possible end of life experience which reflects what is most important to them.

“Each person’s palliative care needs are different, and too many people do not access or receive some or all of the palliative support they need when they need it. This leads to poorer physical and mental health, and financial outcomes for terminally ill people, their families and carers when they should be focusing on the time they have left, not fighting against the system for support they need.”


Dr Wright pointed to a poll of Scottish palliative care specialists last year which revealed 75 per cent would not be willing to participate in any part of the assisted dying process, almost half (43 per cent) would resign if their organisation undertook assisted suicide programmes and 71 per cent would consider resigning.

The vast majority of the nation’s palliative care experts would REFUSE to take part in so-called ‘assisted dying’ schemes if legalised by the Scottish Parliament which is to consider a proposed bill sponsored by Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur.

The poll was carried out by the highly respected Association for Palliative Medicine of Great Britain and Ireland.

Dr Wright said:

“We have always warned legalising assisted suicide will sound the death knell for palliative care. Once assisted dying is legalised, investment in palliative care always lags behind countries where it has not been legalised. Resources will be diverted to other areas. Now we see an additional danger that palliative care professionals will leave the profession.”


The palliative care bill also has the backing of Care Not Killing, the umbrella organisation spearheading opposition to the proposed assisted suicide legislation.

CNK chief executive Dr Gordon Macdonald said:

He said:

“We welcome the bill which comes at a time when palliative care is under such enormous pressure. Holyrood funding is not keeping pace with inflation and provides only around 30% of hospice spending.

“There are massive problems with changing the law to legalise state sanctioned killing. In the Netherlands and Belgium limits on who qualifies for an assisted death have been swept away. No longer is state aided killing with death row drugs limited to those with less than six months to live, but routinely includes disabled people, those with chronic non-terminal conditions and individuals with mental health problems, such as patients with dementia, treatable depression, anorexia even a victim of sexual abuse.

“Many people who express a wish for assisted suicide find that once they actually experience specialist palliative care, they no longer have those suicidal feelings and find that life is worth living.

“The solution is to improve palliative care funding and provision, especially in the community and out of regular hours. Legislating for assisted suicide and euthanasia is a recipe for disaster and will put vulnerable people at risk of abuse and pressure to end their lives. Increasingly cost savings are becoming a driving factor for assisted suicide and euthanasia overseas with people dying because they can’t access health and social care services. We don’t want that to be the case in Scotland which may happen if Liam McArthur’s bill becomes law.”