Assisted Suicide Bill Views Heard

Religious leaders will speak out against proposals to legalise assisted suicide when they appear before a Holyrood committee today.

They will argue that the Assisted Suicide Bill, currently being considered by the Health Committee, has fundamental implications for society and contradicts their belief in the sanctity of life.

But the Humanist Society Scotland says that many of the religious bodies are out of touch with the views and beliefs of their own members.

The Bill, which is being taken forward by Green MSP Patrick Harvie, would allow those with terminal or life-shortening illnesses to obtain help in ending their suffering.

It is the second attempt to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland after the first was defeated at Holyrood in 2010.

Religious bodies outlined their objections to the proposals in written submissions to the Health Committee ahead of giving evidence today.

They expressed concerns with the fundamental principle of assisted suicide and the safeguards contained in the legislation aimed at protecting vulnerable people.

The Church of Scotland said: "The church fundamentally disagrees with the proposed legislation, which represents much more than simply a tinkering with the law.

"Such legislation, breaching as it does the societal prohibition on the taking of human life, carries implications for the whole of society and for attitudes to many aspects of health and social care.

"It has profoundly negative implications for the most vulnerable in society, who may already feel voiceless and marginalised.''

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Scotland is also against the Bill.

It said: "Many of the previous ''safeguards`` have been diluted or entirely removed, potentially creating an even more unsatisfactory bill than that overwhelmingly rejected by the parliament so recently.''

The Muslim Council of Scotland stated: "Legalising assisted suicide changes the culture surrounding care for sick and vulnerable, and would be a catastrophe in terms of how our society confronts illness and disability.''

The Free Church of Scotland said that "no amount of tinkering with the process will make the Bill acceptable''.

The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities was concerned about the impact on vulnerable people.

"Very many people in a situation where assisted suicide might be considered, in a regime where assisted suicide is permitted, fall under some pressure to comply, and we are concerned that the enactment of the proposed Bill would inevitably place a moral and emotional burden on those who are already suffering,'' it said.

The Humanist Society Scotland said many religious people do not agree with these views.

Ian Scott, the body's acting chief executive, said: "It's widely accepted now that leaders of many religious groups do not accurately reflect the views of their members.

"We want to make sure that our politicians are fully aware that these appointed religious leaders do not necessarily reflect the views and beliefs of the significant minority of Scots who are religious.

"Across a range of contemporary moral issues we find that the vast majority of Scots put evidence, compassion and empathy first, and this approach is much more in line with a humanistic world view.''

The committee will also take evidence from palliative care organisations today.

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