Assisted dying laws would give terminally ill patients compassion, according to a survey of specialist medics.
A poll of 224 anaesthetists and other doctors, conducted at the Association of Anaesthetists annual conference in Edinburgh on Wednesday, signalled significant support for the end-of-life proposals.
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur’s member’s Bill on the issue is expected to be published later in the year.
It seeks to enable mentally competent adults who are terminally ill to be provided with help to end their life if they request it.
However, if it becomes law, Scots would not be able to opt for assisted dying for any other reason and safeguards would include independent assessment by two doctors.
According to the poll, 79% of the specialist medics surveyed said the proposals are consistent with the same principles of compassion and best interests that underpin existing, legal NHS treatment given to patients close to death, such as palliative sedation.
Fourteen per cent of respondents disagreed, while 7% said they are unsure.
The survey also found just 6% believe existing end-of-life alternatives are sufficient for all patients, compared to 85% who said they are insufficient and 9% who are unsure.
In August, campaigning charity Friends at the End (Fate) said at least 25 Scots had travelled to clinics in Switzerland where assisted dying is possible.
Mr McArthur said: “For many years, the Scottish public have been overwhelmingly supportive of a change in the law, and this survey is yet more evidence that medical experts are increasingly moving towards the same view.
“The current ban on assisted dying leaves too many Scots facing a bad death. A majority of anaesthetists support a move to a more compassionate regime that can provide adults with a terminal illness with more choice while also putting in place appropriate safeguards.
“That is what I hope to achieve with my assisted dying Bill, and I look forward to working with those in the medical profession and others to help deliver that.”
Emma Cooper, convener of Fate, said: “Many Scots will know from personal experience – as I do – that despite the very best palliative care, people are suffering unnecessarily at the end of their lives.
“This recognition from anaesthetists that a change in the law is needed is very welcome and reflects public opinion.
“The proposed Scottish Bill will give adults with a terminal illness peace of mind that, should they wish to, they can take control of their death and avoid suffering.”
Faith leaders from a number of religious groups, including the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church and the Scottish Association of Mosques, have voiced opposition to the proposals.
However, the Church of Scotland has voted to review the long-held opposition at its General Assembly.
Miro Griffiths, spokesman for the Better Way campaign, highlighted a previous survey by palliative care doctors which showed nine in 10 said assisted dying laws would have a negative impact on palliative care services.
Dr Griffiths said: “With proposals of the kind shortly to be considered, there is no room for error or uncertainty. Yet experts in medicine, disability, suicide prevention, law and policy, and other fields continue to warn that it is unsafe, unpredictable, and unethical.
“We call on MSPs to oppose ‘assisted dying’. We are confident Scotland can articulate a better way forward that does not put vulnerable patients and marginalised and oppressed communities at risk of irreversible harm.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that everyone has dignity and respect at the end of their life, and will carefully consider the substance of any Bill that is introduced.
“We also remain committed to supporting the delivery of the very highest standards of care, right up to the end of life, and to developing and delivering a new strategy on palliative and end of life care.”