Assisted suicide could be viewed as an “opportunity for cost saving” by the NHS if it is legalised, the moderator of the Church of Scotland has claimed.
The Rt Rev Iain Greenshields warned that should an attempt to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their own lives succeed in Scotland, it would permanently change how the most vulnerable are treated in society.
He cited evidence from Canada, where the criteria for accessing a state-approved death has expanded since it was legalised in 2016, and it was estimated that the system could reduce healthcare expenditure by up to £84 million per year.
“Participants in a research study reported that medical assistance in dying (the term used in Canada) had consumed resources that would otherwise be used to provide palliative care,” Dr Greenshields wrote in an article for The Scotsman.
“Is this really the way we wish to see precious caring resources directed? Given the pressure on healthcare resources, we are also very concerned that assisted dying could be seen as providing an opportunity for cost saving.”
Momentum building behind Bill
A LibDem MSP, Liam McArthur, is bringing a private members’ Bill to Holyrood aimed at legalising assisted suicide in Scotland.
While two attempts to pass a similar law in Scotland have failed previously, momentum is building behind the latest proposals, which supporters claim have strict safeguards to prevent abuse.
However, Dr Greenshields warned that any shift would have a dramatic impact on how the sick are viewed and would lead to the most vulnerable being seen as “less valuable or even burdensome”.
He added: “The acceptance by society of legally assisted dying profoundly changes relationships not only between health professionals and patients, but also within families.
“We are concerned that, should assisted dying be legalised, the way our society views older people and those with disabilities will, over time, become more utilitarian.”
Proposals to be introduced this year
Mr McArthur’s proposals are expected to be formally introduced at the Scottish Parliament this year.
He has proposed that those with a terminal physical illness could be prescribed a lethal cocktail of drugs on the NHS, after signing a declaration and being assessed by two doctors.
Advocates of the plans claim they would offer choice to people in pain, who might otherwise face a traumatic death, end their lives earlier by travelling to a jurisdiction where assisted suicide is legal, or place loved ones at risk of prosecution by trying to end their lives themselves.
MSPs are expected to be given a free vote on the issue. While she has twice voted against assisted suicide, Nicola Sturgeon has said she is now more open to supporting legalisation, although she has not yet made a final decision.
Asked about Dr Greenshields’ fears, she said: “I don’t believe it would ever be seen as a cost saving. But I do have a lot of sympathy because I have always been worried about… the ability to have sufficient safeguards that would guard against potential abuse.”