Former health secretary backs plans to legalise assisted suicide

Jeane Freeman said changing the law would fit with the drive in ‘person-centred care’.

Laura Paterson
Sunday 05 December 2021 09:49
Former health secretary Jeane Freeman has backed plans to change the law on assisted suicide in Scotland (Andy Buchanan/PA)
Former health secretary Jeane Freeman has backed plans to change the law on assisted suicide in Scotland (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Former Scotland health secretary Jeane Freeman has backed proposed legislation to allow assisted suicide.

Ms Freeman, who stood down as an MSP at the Holyrood election in May, said it is something she would want herself, if necessary.

Holyrood is currently consulting on a proposal by Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur for an Assisted Dying Bill

I don't believe this legislation undermines the need for good palliative care but nor do I think good palliative care removes the need for this legislation

Jeane Freeman

Ms Freeman told the Sunday Times: “The bottom line for me is I would want that for myself and for my loved ones if that’s what they wanted and if that’s how I feel, I can’t justify denying it to someone else.

“The huge drive in healthcare is for person-centred care and for patients to have as much information as possible about the condition or disease they’re suffering from and about what all the options are so their choice can be an informed one.”

She added: “That can be agreeing to have surgery or medication or other treatment so you’re simply carrying that principle on while making sure there are caveats and precautions to ensure that choice isn’t open to abuse.”

The proposed Bill seeks to legalise assisted dying as a choice for adults who are both terminally ill and mentally competent.

Two doctors would have to independently confirm a person is terminally ill before assisted suicide can be considered, as well as establishing they have the mental capacity to make such a request and have not been coerced.

Doctors would also need to ensure the person has been fully informed of options for palliative and hospice care.

The person making the request would have to sign a written declaration, which would be followed by a “period of reflection”.

They would then have to be able to administer the life ending medication by themselves – with the plans making clear it will continue to be a criminal offence to end someone else’s life directly.

All assisted deaths would also be recorded and reported for safety, monitoring and research purposes

Ms Freeman added: “I don’t believe this legislation undermines the need for good palliative care but nor do I think good palliative care removes the need for this legislation.”

Holyrood has twice voted down attempts to introduce similar legislation, including by independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who introduced the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill in 2011 but died from Parkinson’s disease in 2014 before the Bill could be voted on by the whole chamber, with Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie taking it up.

The consultation on the current Bill runs until December 22.

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