A RETIRED civil servant whose cancer-stricken father "starved to death" in the final weeks of his life has backed proposals to give terminally ill patients the right to end their lives early.

Kenny MacIntyre, from Darnley in Glasgow, said his 95-year-old father Robert asked for help to die three times after a tumour in his oesophagus left him unable to eat or drink.

Mr MacIntyre, who recently met with First Minister Humza Yousaf to share his family's experience, is now lending his support to the campaign to change Scotland's laws on assisted dying.

An open letter that he has written to Mr Yousaf urging the FM to back new legislation on the issue has so far attracted around 17,500 signatures of support.

It comes after Liberal Democrat MSP, Liam McArthur, won the right to bring his private member's bill on Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults to the Scottish Parliament, with MSPs expected to be given a free vote.

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The Bill - the third attempt to pass such legislation in Scotland - would give mentally competent adults with a terminal illness the right to be prescribed a lethal dose of medication which they would have to self-administer.

Mr MacIntyre said his father, who died in March, "would have grasped the opportunity with both hands".

He said: "My father was lucid right up until the point he slipped into a coma, and he only last a few hours after that.

"He wished he had the choice - he did talk about it. It was a conversation we had while he was in hospital.

"He asked me three times - once before he was in hospital - asking me if there's anything I can do, and we talked about it: 'that's the law, there's nothing we can do'."

HeraldScotland: Kenny MacIntyre said his father Robert (inset, in his younger years) had repeatedly asked for help to end his life in his final weeksKenny MacIntyre said his father Robert (inset, in his younger years) had repeatedly asked for help to end his life in his final weeks (Image: Colin Mearns/Herald&Times)

Robert MacIntyre was born in 1927 and got his first job aged six, doing a milk round in exchange for a penny to put in the family's gas meter so that they could light the cooker. He was one of seven children.

As an adult, the married father-of-two spent over 30 years working as a taxi driver in the Hamilton area before he retired aged 62. He lost his wife to Alzheimer's disease but enjoyed good health until his 90s.

In 2022, he was diagnosed with incurable prostate cancer which later spread to his oesophagus.

"We didn't know it at the time, but he was having problems eating," said Mr MacIntyre.

"He couldn't keep things down and he really wasn't telling anybody. When he went into hospital they found out that it had metastasised to his oesophagus.

"The hospital staff, to a man, were great.

"They did all they could do for him in terms of pain relief, but the inevitable thing was that he starved to death. They couldn't operate at that stage because he was too fragile.

"He was good at hiding pain, but I think for my father the distress at the end was just as much psychological as physical - he was very aware of his surroundings and what was happening to his body.

"He wasn't going to get any better, this was a dead end - quite literally."

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Mr MacIntyre said patients like Robert who would wish to end their lives on their own terms currently face a "stark choice" between "suffering, Switzerland, or suicide".

he said: "It's too late for my father, and it's too late for an awful lot of people, but this legislation is something for the future because death is the one thing that's inevitable for all of us."

Ally Thomson, director of Dignity in Dying Scotland - which backs Mr McArthur's Bill - said Robert's death "highlights the unnecessary pain caused by our current law on assisted dying".

She added: "No-one should have to suffer like that in their last few weeks.

"It is clear that the law must change so that dying people have the choice of a compassionate and safe assisted death if that is what is right for them.

"We know from the responses to the public consultation on Liam McArthur MSP’s Assisted Dying for Terminally Ill Adults Bill that dying people want this choice and that too many families experience the same helplessness and heartache that Kenny did watching a loved one endure a terrible death.

"It is too late for those families, but MSPs will have the chance to put this right and make sure that other terminally ill people have both excellent care and more choice if they are suffering by voting in favour of the Bill when it comes before Parliament.”

HeraldScotland: LibDem MSP Liam McArthur was given the go ahead in October 2022 to bring his private member's bill to the Scottish Parliament. It could be debated later this yearLibDem MSP Liam McArthur was given the go ahead in October 2022 to bring his private member's bill to the Scottish Parliament. It could be debated later this year (Image: PA)

It comes as a group of experts on ethics, writing in an open letter to the Herald today, said the proposed legislation "represents a positive step to improve how people die in Scotland".

The Philosophers' Consortium on Assisted Dying in Scotland (PCADS), which brings together academic philosophers from the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews, are due to hold an event on Monday setting out their reasons for backing the Bill.

In their letter, they said worries that the law would undermine palliative care provision were "unfounded" and rejected warnings that it could lead to some disabled people "being subject to pressure to die".

They write: "We too would have reservations if the law posed such dangers to the disabled community.

"However, the McArthur bill allows only the terminally ill to seek assisted dying and makes no reference to disability.

"We also note that polls show broad support for assisted dying laws amongst people with disabilities."

READ MORE: Landmark assisted dying legislation to be introduced in Holyrood

They argue that some form of physician-assisted dying is probably taking place already on an ad hoc basis, stating: "As it stands, it is virtually certain that medically assisted dying occurs now in Scotland, but without regulation or transparency.

"Far better, we think, for medically assisted dying to be legally available to a small segment of qualified patients and carried out conscientiously and in the open by trained professionals."

Two previous attempts to change the law in Scotland failed, but polling indicates that around three quarters of the population strongly support Mr McArthur's proposals.

In 2010, the End of Life Assistance Bill - brought by the late MSP Margo MacDonald, who had Parkinson's disease - was defeated by 85 votes to 16.

HeraldScotland: Independent MSP Margo MacDonald died in 2014Independent MSP Margo MacDonald died in 2014 (Image: PA)

The legislation would have allowed people who find their lives intolerable as a result of a progressive degenerative condition, a traumatic injury or a terminal illness to seek a doctor's help in dying, but it was considered too wide-ranging and was controversial with a majority of medics who were reluctant to take an active role in ending patients' lives.

A second attempt - the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill - was tabled in 2012 and taken over by Green MSP Patrick Harvie in 2014, following the death of Ms MacDonald.

However, it too was rejected by 82 to 36 in a free vote by MSPs in 2015.

The legislation would have allowed someone with a terminal, life-limiting or life-shortening disease the right to request a fatal dose of medication to enable them to to end their life.

In both cases a number of MSPs abstained or did not respond to the debate at all.

READ MORE: Catalan bioethics expert says Scots colleagues wrong to oppose assisted dying law 

The latest effort comes amid a shifting landscape for assisted dying laws globally.

Spain and Germany have passed laws enabling medically-assisted suicide or euthanasia in some circumstances, and in April French President Emmanuel Macron announced that new end-of-life legislation will be drafted later this year.

It is expected to cover terminally ill adults capable of making a "free and informed" decision.

Meanwhile, in the Republic of Ireland, a special committee of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) has been tasked with carrying out a study exploring what eligibility criteria and safeguards would be required to pass a law on assisted dying.

It comes after a Bill which would have granted terminally ill patients the right to an assisted death was paused in 2021 after reaching the second stage amid widespread public support.

On the Isle of Man, however, a private member's bill that would give terminally ill and mentally competent adults living in the crown dependency the choice for an assisted death has split opinion.

A consultation, which reported in April, found that 49.6 per cent of respondents agreed with the principle of assisted dying while 49% opposed it.

There has also been controversy over the direction of travel in Canada, which introduced its Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) programme in 2016 for adults with a terminal illness.

HeraldScotland: Canada's assisted dying laws have been steadily extended since their introduction in 2016Canada's assisted dying laws have been steadily extended since their introduction in 2016 (Image: Getty)

In 2021, the scope was extended to include patients with serious and chronic physical illnesses or disabilities which were irreversible and causing "unbearable physical or mental suffering", but which were not necessarily life-threatening.

Similar arrangements are already in place in a handful of other countries including Belgium and the Netherlands.

Canada's law is expected to change again this year to cover patients with mental illnesses, such as somatic pain.

Assisted dying already accounts for 3.3% of all deaths in Canada, and there have been warnings from some psychiatrists that it is too difficult to predict who can recover from mental illnesses.