A consultation is being launched as part of the third attempt to legalise assisted dying in Scotland – with both supporters and opponents of the Bill calling on people to have their say.
Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur has put forward proposals, which he insisted would allow people to have a “peaceful, dignified death”.
His Member’s Bill seeks to legalise assisted dying as a choice for adults who are both terminally ill and mentally competent.
He has also insisted there are “strong safeguards” built into his Assisted Dying Scotland Bill – which is being supported by Dignity in Dying Scotland, Friends at the End and the Humanist Society Scotland.
But the group Care Not Killing – which includes the Catholic Church and the Muslim Council of Scotland – said it expected thousands of Scots would sign a petition it has launched against the legislation.
Chief executive Dr Gordon Macdonald said there were “significant concerns” about McArthur’s Bill.
Noting that MSPs had twice rejected similar legislation, most recently in 2015, Macdonald said: “The last time MSPs voted against a Bill there were more than 15,000 names on our petition. I am confident the total will be higher this time.”
His comments came as the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland warned: “Legalising assisted suicide would put immeasurable pressure on vulnerable people including those with disabilities to end their lives prematurely, for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden on others.”
Meanwhile the Muslim Council of Scotland said it was “deeply concerned” about plans to change the law.
It insisted: “Life is a divine gift and trust. Our priority, therefore, must be on care and wellbeing, particularly of those for whom personal circumstances may drive them, or leave them vulnerable to coercion, towards assisted suicide.”
Michael Veitch, parliamentary officer for the campaigning charity CARE for Scotland, said it was “dispiriting” that Holyrood was again debating the issue.
With MSPs having twice rejected similar Bills, he said: “They didn’t do this on a whim, or because they lacked compassion. They did so because of the overwhelming evidence that assisted suicide is a harmful and regressive practice, that threatens to undermine the safety and the value of vulnerable and marginalised groups.”
However Ally Thomson, director of the organisation Dignity in Dying Scotland, said: “The time has come for a new law on assisted dying.
“The overwhelming majority of people in Scotland support a change in the law and now Scots can have their say on the vitally important issue of how we die.
“The current blanket ban on assisted dying does not work, it creates heartache and injustice for so many families and it is time it was rewritten.”
McArthur said: “In my time as an MSP I have heard from many dying people and grieving families who have been failed by the current blanket ban on assisted dying.
“I have watched other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand put new laws in place to ensure their citizens can have a peaceful and dignified death and I believe that the time is right for Scotland to look again at providing our dying people with more choice at the end of life.
“The consultation sets out a blueprint for how we can do this safely and compassionately.”
He continued: “The proposed law will work alongside palliative care and apply only to terminally ill, mentally competent adults. It features strong safeguards that put transparency, protection and compassion at the core of a prospective new law.
“How we die is an issue for our whole society and I am keen that this public consultation encourages a nationwide discussion on what we need to do to give dying people the help and support they need to have a good death. I encourage people to respond with their views and experiences.”