Health secretary ‘not persuaded’ on assisted dying law as predecessor backs change

Humza Yousaf said he has concerns over how adequate proposed safeguards are.

Laura Paterson
Sunday 05 December 2021 11:36
Humza Yousaf and Jeane Freeman have spoke out on plans to legalise assisted dying (PA)
Humza Yousaf and Jeane Freeman have spoke out on plans to legalise assisted dying (PA)

Scotland’s health secretary has said he is “not persuaded” of the case to legalise assisted suicide as his predecessor Jeane Freeman backed plans to change the law.

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

Health secretary Humza Yousaf said he has “sympathy and empathy” for people who want the law changed but his concerns over the level of safeguards and potential for abuse mean he does not support the law change.

Humza Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland’s The Sunday Show: “My own personal view is that I’m not persuaded by the proposals, particularly because I’m not sure that we have stringent safeguards in place.”

He said he was open-minded to hearing more detail on the issue and wants to meet with Mr McArthur to hear more about areas he is concerned about.

His comments come as former Scotland health secretary Jeane Freeman backed the proposed legislation.

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

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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