The Church of Scotland does not support any changes to the law which would permit assisted dying, sometimes called assisted suicide or euthanasia. While the relief of suffering is an obligation, to allow the artificial termination of a life is unacceptable.
In 2009 the General Assembly received a report on End of Life Issues and this paper continues to form the basis for our reasoning and position.
In 2014 the General Assembly reaffirmed the Church's position, held for many years, on end of life care with Deliverance 45 of the Church and Society Council's report, which said:
"Continue to oppose any change to the legal position with regard to assisted suicide because of concerns about the effect any such change would have on the way society views its weakest and most vulnerable members, whilst recognising that many individuals and families face difficult decisions at the end of life, and urge the provision of better resources for palliative care."
In 2014 and 2015 the Church argued against the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill which was rejected by the Scottish Parliament by 82 votes to 36 in May 2015.
We continue to support the current legal safeguards in this area and have called for better provision for access to palliative care services for those that need them.
Response to the Proposed Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill
The proposed Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill is a proposal for a Member's Bill by Liam McArthur MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrat Member for Orkney Islands. The Bill, if it was to become a new law, would allow terminally ill adults in Scotland to ask for assistance in ending their own lives.
The Faith Impact Forum submitted a response to the bill during the consultation period, which ended on 22 December 2021. The full text of the response is now available to read online.
The experience of Church of Scotland Parish ministers in accompanying people in the final stages of their life and their support for grieving families and friends provides an important insight into issues around living and dying well. Our experiences also emphasise the role of community and interpersonal relationships; instead of an individualistic approach to personal autonomy ("it's my life and I can choose how and when to end it") the interdependence of community life is more important. Permitting assisted dying has implications for a range of people, including those living with disability or impairment, or those who may feel they are a burden on family, friends or the state. A change which would allow greater personal choice for an individual will have far reaching repercussions for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Sanctity of life
Our understanding of human life is that it is a gift from God, and that all people are made in God's image. There is a very special value and dignity for every life, which is not dependent on the quality of experience of a particular life. Permitting assisted suicide would contradict our important belief in the sanctity of life.
A good life, a good death
Scottish society today is not very good at talking about death or confronting our mortality. The Christian tradition provides us with structures of hope, meaning and new possibilities even in the midst of pain and suffering. In a death-denying culture such as our own, Christianity enables us to look at death quite differently from the culture around us, offering us rituals, prayers, scriptures and communities that embody and live out our belief in the resurrection. This in turn provides both life and death with new meaning. This is important.
Our beliefs and understandings of the world help us to die well. But our beliefs about life and death don't miraculously appear at the end of our lives. We die in precisely the way that we live. Dying well requires that we live well, not just at the end of our lives but throughout the whole of our lives. In other words, the time to begin to develop the types of beliefs and practices that will be helpful to us as we face death is not when we are struck by illness, but rather in the practices of everyday life during seasons of illness and health. This is why the Church of Scotland stands resolutely against the idea that human life is made less dignified or worthy by limitations in capacity, and affirms again opposition to legislation which seeks to bring about the deliberate ending of life.
- End of Life Issues pamphlet