LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Scotland’s bishops are urging voters to consider ongoing efforts to legalize assisted suicide when the vote in elections for the Scottish parliament on May 6.

In a pastoral letter issued April 9, the bishops urged voters to put “human life and the inviolable dignity of the human person” at the center of political discussions in the country.

Under the United Kingdom’s devolved system, Scotland is in charge of most of its own domestic affairs. Recent polls show the ruling Scottish National Party – which advocates for Scottish independence – is likely to win a majority of seats.

In their letter, the bishops said it was “critical to ascertain candidates’ personal values and opinions and not concentrate solely on party policies” when casting a vote, especially since many issues involve a “free vote” – meaning candidates aren’t forced to vote along party lines.

“It is the duty of parliamentarians to uphold the most basic and fundamental human right to life. Elected representatives ought to recognize the existence of human life from the moment of conception and be committed to the protection of human life at every stage. Caring for the unborn and their mothers is a fundamental measure of a caring and compassionate society; a society which puts human dignity at the center,” the bishops write.

They also pointed to the current efforts to assisted suicide in Scotland.

“It is incumbent upon our parliamentarians to show compassion for the sick and dying. This is not achieved by assisted suicide or euthanasia but by ensuring support is provided through caring and attentive politics, including investment in palliative care,” the letter says.

The bishops also allude to the hate speech legislation currently making its way through the parliament, which critics say is heavy-handed and could put religious organizations at risk for their teachings on traditional sexuality.

The letter says if Scotland is to be a tolerant, open, diverse country, “then we must be free to discuss and debate ideas, even those which are deemed by some to be controversial.”

“Whilst being mindful of the need to protect citizens from hate, government must not overstep into the realm of unjust restrictions on free speech, free expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This must include, among others, the freedom to express belief in the biological reality of sex and gender,” the bishops state.

The letter also touches on the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic crisis it has caused.

“The pandemic has placed immeasurable pressure on businesses and many people have lost their livelihood. The state has a duty to sustain business activities by creating conditions which will ensure job opportunities, especially in times of crisis. This must be accompanied by a just wage to provide a dignified livelihood for the worker and their family,” the bishops write.

“Sadly, poverty remains a scourge for too many people. The marginalized, the homeless, and the lonely and isolated have been cast further adrift because of the pandemic. And poverty now affects 24 percent of children in Scotland. We need elected representatives who respect a preferential option for the poor, who are willing to prioritize their need and respect their human dignity,” the letter continues.

The bishops use the letter to also urge the Scottish parliament to continue to support “an open and diverse state education system which includes Catholic schools.”

Scotland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, gives government support to Catholic educational institutions. Over 10 percent of the schools in Scotland are state-supported Catholic schools. Most schools are “non-denominational,” but have historic ties to the Protestant Church of Scotland, and the law in Scotland still mandates that communal “religious observances” take place in schools, saying this “complements other aspects of a pupil’s learning and is an important contribution to pupils’ development.”

“The right of parents to choose a school for their children which corresponds to their own convictions is fundamental. Public authorities have a duty to guarantee this parental right and to ensure the concrete conditions for its exercise,” the bishops write.

The bishops avoided one of the most contentious issues surrounding the May 6 poll: Efforts to hold a second referendum on Scotland’s independence.

A referendum held in 2014 was won by those seeking to remain in the United Kingdom, but there are efforts to put the matter to the vote again later this year, despite the fact the London government says such an action would be illegal without permission from the UK parliament.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome