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Scottish Conference decision: support for assisted dying

April 2, 2015 5:54 PM
By Gary McLelland

I'm incredibly proud that the Scottish Liberal Democrats have now voted to support the right of people with life-shortening conditions to seek help to end their lives. The Choice, Compassion And Dignity At End Of Life motion was passed at the Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference in Aberdeen on Saturday 21st March.

The full motion can be found here.

The motion was taken forward by Humanist & Secularist Liberal Democrats (HSLD), but received support from a whole range of people from different philosophical and belief backgrounds. The motion received a lot of behind the scenes support from HSLD member Caron Lindsay, a very well-known Scottish Lib Dem, and I'm very grateful for all the support I received from her.

This was my first motion to conference since I joined the party and, whilst the vast majority of the Scottish population support the aims of these measures, it remains a contentious issue for some in public life.

Early on in the drafting of the motion, I was amazed that Caron and I were able to secure the backing of two very well-known public supporters of assisted dying/suicide: Lord [Jeremy] Purvis of Tweed and Liam McArthur MSP.

(I know many non-Scot readers might have difficulty with the reference to 'assisted suicide'. This reflects the name of the Assisted Dying (Scotland) Bill, currently at Stage 1 of its passage through the Scottish Parliament. The name probably reflects the desire for a change of tone, following the defeat of the rather euphemistically named 'End of Life Assistance Bill' in 2010.)

Speaking ahead of the motion, at a conference fringe event organised by My Life, My Death, My Choice, the official campaign group for the Scottish bill, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, party President, spoke about her support for the measures. She told delegates how her faith as a Christian inspired her to be compassionate, and how her values as a liberal informed her position on the matter.

Speaking later in the debate, Elizabeth Wilson, the Lib Dem General Election candidate for Stirling, told how her mother had starved herself to death over a period of weeks after suffering a number of strokes. She claimed this was a "course a number of people take because they have no other route".

Councillor Ashay Ghai, deputy leader of East Dunbartonshire Council also spoke about why it is important to respect the worth and autonomy of individuals.

There were only really two main opposition points, suggesting (wrongly in my opinion) that the motion would 'force' healthcare professionals to take part in proceedings, and that it would lead to an increase in 'Harold Shipman cases'.

On the second point, I was able to assure conference that Harold Shipman was a serial killer, not a proponent of assisted dying/suicide. I then went on to outline how my humanist values of dignity, autonomy and choice also echoed my liberal values of freedom and self-determination, and why I thought the Scottish Liberal Democrats should support the measures.

In the end, the motion was passed by a majority vote of around four-fifths, coincidentally similar to the proportion of the Scottish population who think that this is an important, or very important issue (see http://www.lifedeathchoice.org.uk/news/news/more-than-three-quarters-of-scots-say-important-assisted-suicide-bill-becomes-law/).

This brings Scottish party policy in line with the federal party policy that has been in place since 1997. It does make the Scottish Liberal Democrats, as far as I know, the only political party in Scotland to be in favour (although there are many Scottish politicians, from all the main parties, who publicly and actively support the campaign).

Let me say once again that I'm delighted that this motion has been accepted by conference, and is now Scottish Liberal Democrat policy. The vote was a clear indication that the majority of party members support the principles of the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, and wish to see legal reforms to enable people with life-shortening conditions the choice, dignity and autonomy to end their lives at a time of their own choosing.

I'm enormously grateful to Liam McArthur MSP and Lord Jeremy Purvis for their support with this motion, and to all the party members who supported it.

Gary McLelland is the chair of HSLD, and is the General Election Liberal Democrat candidate for Glasgow East.

A video of Gary McLelland's contribution to the debate can be seen here: https://youtu.be/ypfpDbR3q00

Photos of the supporters of the motion, and of the debate can be seen here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B58eNyUrw7TETm9xLXBwdlp5UG8&usp=sharing