Scotland

Right-to-die MSP Margo MacDonald dismisses claims

The MSP behind plans to give terminally ill people the right to die in Scotland has dismissed claims the law could result in up to 1,000 deaths a year.

Margo MacDonald said the figure was nearer 55, based on the US state of Oregon, where such a law operates.

Her comments came as a special parliament committee finished taking evidence on the End of Life Assistance Bill.

The proposals will face their first parliamentary vote in November.

It is not illegal to attempt suicide in Scotland, but helping someone take their own life could lead to prosecution.

Ms MacDonald's bill would allow people whose lives become intolerable through a progressive degenerative condition, a trauma or terminal illness to seek a doctor's help in dying.

It also proposes a series of safeguards which would prevent abuse of the legislation.

Michael Matheson, an SNP member on the committee, said the bill was much closer to Dutch, rather than US legislation.

"Using the very same methodology that you've used to calculate the figures, the number of people who may exercise their rights under this legislation, if enacted, is closer to 1,000 rather than 55," he said.

Ms MacDonald, independent MSP for the Lothians, pointed to recent improvements in palliative care, responding: "I don't think you can make that leap of judgment or estimate, if you like."

The MSP, who has Parkinson's disease, also played down concerns over the "burden" the law would place on GPs, adding: "I believe that there is no difference between sitting beside someone as they self-inject or ingest and pressing the plunger."

She pointed out that no doctor would have to take part in assisted suicide under the bill if it was against their "conscience or moral belief".

MSPs will decide the bill's fate in a "free vote", rather than along party lines, although it is unclear whether the legislation will make it past the first of its three voting stages.

In England, the director of public prosecutions has indicated he was unlikely to take legal action against those who assist the suicide of friends or relatives who have a settled and informed wish to die.

However, no such guidance has been given in Scotland.

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