The Church of Scotland has voted to review its long-held opposition to assisted dying at its General Assembly.
Commissioners at the Kirk’s annual meeting voted in favour of “exploring more deeply the diverse views held by Kirk members on the controversial subject”.
Assisted dying is currently subject to debate after Scottish Lib Dem MSP Liam McArthur submitted a Bill in the Scottish Parliament which would allow competent adults with a terminal illness to request assistance to end their lives.
Following an “impassioned” debate, the majority of commissioners at the General Assembly on Wednesday backed a countermotion expressing recognition that there is a range of theological views and ethical opinions on assisted dying within the Church.
The countermotion was brought forward by Rev Jonathan Fleming, minister of Lyle Kirk in Greenock, following a motion initially tabled by Rev Tara Granados of Ibrox Parish Church in Glasgow.
Mr Fleming said: “I am grateful to Tara for raising this very emotive and challenging issue and to the General Assembly for agreeing to an exploration of the spectrum of views and opinions to take place and to report to a future General Assembly.
“Deeply moved by the stories of those who spoke at the Assembly, I felt moved to bring a counter motion that allowed a window of space and grace to be created and for this to be discussed sensitively and thoroughly.”
Rev Karen Hendry, convener of the Kirk’s Faith Impact Forum, said: “The conversations that we had (in the General Assembly hall) were very deep and meaningful and took us to a very human place.
“Out of that we have got to a point where we can pause and think more deeply about this very important issue.
“This has opened up the dialogue, it is a very real and emotive issue for people.
“Everyone has experience of a loved one dying at some point and this is something that is important to all of us – what does it mean to have a good death?
“This is an opportunity to take some time and reflect on what that means to us and how we develop our thinking and faith alongside that.
“We hope we can explore these questions with the Theological Forum and others over the months to come and bring something to a future General Assembly.”
But current moderator of the General Assembly, Reverend Iain Greenshields, will speak at an event at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday highlighting his opposition to the Bill.
The faith leaders emphasised the sanctity placed upon life in their respective religious traditions.
Rev Greenshields said: “Our opposition to assisted dying is based on our Christian faith, and involves concerns around the principle of assisted dying, around the application of the law in practice, the perception of the value of human lives, and also the effect which any change is likely to have on the provision of care – in particular, on palliative care.”
Mr McArthur, who represents Orkney, has “warmly welcomed” the decision to review the Kirk’s position.
He said: “It has long been clear that there is a diversity of viewpoints held by members of different faith communities. So I warmly welcome the General Assembly’s decision to review the Kirk’s position.
“We know that an overwhelming majority of Scots have long been in favour of a change in the current law, which leaves too many people facing bad deaths with inadequate options.
“My Assisted Dying Bill would work alongside high-quality palliative care to offer a more compassionate choice to those suffering from a terminal illness, subject to strict and rigorous safeguards.
“I believe this is what Scotland needs.”
Last year, Mr McArthur won the right to introduce his Bill to Parliament and it is currently being drafted, with a final text planned for later this year.
He has said the public are behind the proposals to offer people more choice at the end of their life and the Bill will be “safe, robust, and compassionate”.