A BILL to legalise assisted dying has been presented to the Scottish Parliament.

If passed, the bill would allow terminally ill people who are of sound mind to be provided with assistance to end their lives should they wish to do so.

The Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults (Scotland) Bill, proposed by LibDem MSP Liam McArthur, was published in the Scottish Parliament this week. 

The proviso “of sound mind” is important as it ensures that people who are suffering from cognitive impairment cannot be pressured into seeking an assisted death.

Thus this bill would not extend the possibility of an assisted death to those suffering from dementia.

I must declare a personal interest here. My late husband Andy was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2012, although he had in retrospect been displaying symptoms of the disease for at least 18 months previously.

Some years prior to this, while he was still well and in full control of his mental faculties he had told me that his worst fear was ending up, as he put it “a drooling cabbage”, entirely dependent on others to help with all his basic bodily needs, and that should that situation ever transpire he would like help to end his life.

He did not however put that wish down in writing. Vascular dementia is a cruel and invariably fatal illness which gradually strips sufferers of their mental faculties, their memories, and their ability to care for themselves. It is invariably fatal and there is no cure.

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As his condition progressed he became incontinent, unable to feed, wash, or dress himself, and was confined to a wheelchair.

Andy's worst fear came true. In a strange way it was perhaps fortunate that one common symptom of vascular dementia is an emotional flatness and a loss of any strong emotional response, so he was not overly distressed by his condition and had very little insight into it.

Indeed, he forgot that he had been diagnosed with it. He finally succumbed to the illness in September 2014. His death when it came was peaceful and I was with him at the end.

As his main and most of the time his sole carer, it was a gruelling, distressing and brutal experience.

Due to his cognitive impairment, Andy would not have been able to avail himself of the assisted death provisions contained in this bill had they been in force at the time, and as distressing and horrible as his condition was, he was no longer mentally competent to take the decision to end his life, notwithstanding his previous wish to do so when such a situation was merely hypothetical.

No matter how draining and upsetting the situation was for me as his carer and partner, it is right that people like Andy who lack the cognitive awareness to fully understand their condition should not be able to avail themselves of assisted dying.

His illness robbed him of the personal dignity that was so important to him, but it also robbed him of the ability to understand that that is what was happening to him, and that in a way was a blessing.

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Even if he had asked for help to end his life in those awful final months, I would have refused, despite how dreadful the situation was, and despite how much I loved and cared for him, because he was no longer in a position to take such decisions for himself, and he would have forgotten that he had asked a few minutes later.

However, not all terminal illnesses rob those suffering from them of their cognitive abilities and awareness.

Luckily Andy was not in great pain or intolerable physical discomfort, but that is not the case for all people who are diagnosed with a terminal condition.

They not only find themselves in great pain, they also face the loss of bodily autonomy and personal dignity, and remain fully aware of what is happening to them. No one deserves to spend their final days and weeks in pain and distress.

As someone with personal experience of a spouse who was diagnosed with a terminal condition I fully support this bill and urge MSPs to pass it, even though I recognise and fully accept that it should not apply to those diagnosed with conditions like my late husband's.

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People with a terminal illness who are in full possession of their mental faculties and who are fully aware of what is happening to them should have the absolute right to choose the manner and timing of their death. That's what bodily autonomy means.

A poll published this week, commissioned by the campaigning group Dignity in Dying, which supports the new bill, has found that a large majority of Scots support the measure.

The poll, conducted for campaigning group by Opinium, surveyed 4132 Scottish adults between February 9 and March 15 and found that 78% of respondents support the measure, only 15% were clearly opposed.

The lowest level of support anywhere in Scotland was in the constituency of Shettleston where Lightburn Hospital is located, the hospital in which Andy died.

Yet even here two thirds of respondents were in favour of the bill.

Proposer of the bill Liam McArthur said: “It has been clear for many years that an overwhelming majority of the public support a change in the law to allow more choice for dying people at the end of life.

“This latest polling certainly underscores that, while also confirming that this support is to be found right across the country.

He added: “It is increasingly clear that the current ban on assisted dying is failing too many dying Scots at the end of life, despite the very best efforts of palliative care.”

The bill will come before MSPs in the coming months, there will be a free vote on the bill, with no party whip being imposed.

Previous attempts to pass an assisted dying bill have failed, but campaigners believe that this time the bill has a good chance of passing.