Skip to main content

BASW contributes to Scottish euthanasia debate

BASW Scotland leaders appear to have secured a notable concession from MSPs considering legislation that would allow people to ask a doctor to help them end their life.

In evidence to the committee considering the End of Life Assistance Bill (Scotland), BASW Scotland manager Ruth Stark expressed concern that the role of social workers is absent from proposed legislation. But just days after Ms Stark gave evidence the MSP who tabled the Bill, Margo McDonald MSP, said she would now seek to accommodate social work expertise.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament committee, Ms Stark had told MSPs: “I am surprised that we have not been written into the bill, although we feature in mental health and adults with incapacity legislation because that is what we do—we assess for abuse and harm being caused to people. I repeat: I find it surprising that we are not mentioned in the bill.”

“One of our association’s issues about the proposed legislation is around coercion. We work with families all the time, and we know how difficult it is to assess coercion within families,” she added.

Margo Macdonald made it clear in the days after the BASW evidence that she did see a role for social workers in assessing people seeking to end their lives. She explained: “The intention is to make sure that everyone who has been in contact with the person making the request is involved in that decision.

“Social workers are quite likely to have an even better knowledge of the person concerned [than other professionals].”

Ms Macdonald, an independent MSP, said that a decision was still to be made about whether social workers will be mentioned within the bill or in the guidance.

The bill, which was introduced in January 2010, would enable people aged 16 and over, who are terminally ill or permanently disabled, to ask a doctor to help them end their life.

Ms Stark said BASW was “deeply concerned” about the age limit. “We firmly believe firmly it should be over 18, in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” she said.

Speaking after the hearing, Ms Stark said “Whether the Bill will get through Parliament in this session is not clear. However, this is not an issue that will go away given the practices in Oregon, the Netherlands and Switzerland so we should be having a very serious debate within our own profession and with others about the way forward.”

The bill is expected to be voted on before the end of the year.