Liam McArthur, Liberal Democrat MSP for the Orkney Islands, has successfully secured the right to introduce a Member’s Bill to the Scottish Parliament on changing the law to allow for assisted dying in certain circumstances, after 36 MSPs from 5 political parties supported the proposal.

The Bill would allow for mentally competent adults” (those over the age of 16) who are terminally ill to request assistance to end their life. The person must have been a resident of Scotland for at least a year.

The last time proposals came to the Scottish Parliament to change the law on assisted dying was in 2015. The Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill was voted down at stage one by a substantial majority vote. Those MPs who voted against the Bill included Humza Yousaf, Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale, and other MSPs from the SNP, Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. 

This is one of the most sensitive policy areas which the Scottish Parliament works on, and likewise we acknowledge the very good intentions that MSPs, campaign groups and individuals are working from in their desire to change the law to allow for assisted dying in Scotland. This issue is complicated, nuanced and highly emotive, and we all need to think compassionately and graciously about it. Equally, we need to have clarity and logic to see the significant ramifications of the Bill. 


We can understand where well-meaning intentions come from. If the Bill seeks to end the unnecessary suffering of terminally ill adults, you may wonder, why would followers of Jesus not support this? Justice is one of the clearest themes running through the whole of scripture, from the law and prophets of the Old Testament to the teachings of Jesus and the actions of the early church. Doing justice is what has motivated Christians to end slavery, to bring about racial equality, to alleviate poverty and suffering. Is this situation not the same? 

But whilst good intentions are just that, intended for good, legalising assisted dying goes against everything we understand about the God story and what He holds most dear – His children and our lives. 

Assisted dying opens up a plethora of potential areas of harm and does not safeguard the sick and the vulnerable. Here are three key issues that exemplify this: 

The decreased value of life

We are deeply concerned with how legalising assisted dying would change our public and cultural outlook towards those who are deeply struggling with serious physical or mental illness. By facilitating the option of assisted dying in certain circumstances where none currently exist, it would make those eligible think twice about how worthwhile their life is, or the perceived burden” they are to others or to the NHS by staying alive – this should never cross anyone’s mind if we value all life equally. Rather than empowering the individual with more autonomy, we actually give them less, subject to who our culture decides should be eligible. 

Legalising assisted dying would also have fundamental implications for palliative care in Scotland as we know it. It’s impossible to push for better palliative care on one hand while also offering the choice to die on the other – where is the care’ in healthcare when this is the choice? The underlying principle of palliative care is that all life is valuable, that despite pain and illness through terminal diagnoses, fulfilment and joy are still possible. 

What can we say to those given short terminal diagnoses (6 months or less as the Bill outlines) who outlive their prognosis, sometimes even by years? If the option to die is on the table, families and friends may not have this time together. As Christians we believe that all life is intrinsically valuable made in the image of God, despite our health status. 

There truly are no safeguards strong enough to ensure that nobody feels any level of pressure to end their life because they think they are being a burden. 

A slippery slope”

Even a cursory glance at the states where assisted dying has been legalised, such as Canada, Belgium and the Netherlands tell an alarming story. There is a reason why MSPs voted so comprehensively in 2015 against assisted suicide. Even when safeguards are initially strong, the goalposts have shifted over time in these states. In Canada, it is now legal for those with common disabilities to apply for an assisted death. This is harrowing. The Canadian government is also currently assessing whether to expand the law to allow those with mental health problems to apply for assisted dying. It would be a state-level injustice to go down this route.

Erosion of the patient-doctor relationship

The patient-doctor relationship is one of the most trusting relationships we have in life outside of our families and friends. As a society we must be able to trust that medical professionals are offering the best advice on treatment options given their training and experience. To legalise assisted dying is to put doctors in the position of having to offer this as an option, should we meet the criteria. What can a doctor say to a patient in this situation who is telling themselves lies about being a burden to their family and the NHS? Would it lead to less vulnerable people seeking medical help because assisted dying was an option? In scrutiny of the 2015 assisted suicide proposals, the Health & Sport Committee in the Scottish Parliament concluded that coercion could not be definitively ruled out if assisted dying was legalised.

The life of the Lord Jesus is marked out by His care for the most vulnerable in society. As His followers we must advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society, to stop a Bill that would lead to the deaths of many vulnerable people. This is the time to write to your MSP or visit their constituency surgery to speak to them in person about your concerns with grace and love. To support you with this, we’d encourage you to read our Connect resource, which helps with beginning to build relationships with your MSPs, praying for them and supporting them as they represent you in the Scottish Parliament.