Margo MacDonald's End of Life Assistance Bill rejected

From Democracy Live: Margo MacDonald MSP fails to gain enough support for her End of Life Assistance Bill

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The Scottish Parliament has rejected plans to give terminally ill people the right to choose when to die, despite claims they were widely backed.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald's End of Life Assistance Bill aimed to make it legal for someone to seek help to end their life.

Ms MacDonald, who has Parkinson's disease, claimed there was wide public support for the legislation.

But the bill was defeated by 85 votes to 16 with two abstentions.

MSPs were allowed a rare free vote on the bill, rather than on party lines, and it was supported by a number of members from across the Holyrood parties.

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

The End of Life Assistance Bill would have allowed 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 proposed a series of safeguards which would prevent abuse of the legislation.

Ms MacDonald said it was important to allow terminally ill people some dignity.

Speaking at MSPs debated the bill in parliament, she added: "The idea of assisting someone to achieve a peaceful death, within the law, in accordance with what that person considers to be a dignified fashion, is alive and well."

Ms MacDonald also attacked the "Care not Killing" alliance of 50 groups, including faith-based organisations, which campaigned strongly against the bill.

End of Life Assistance Bill - Key measures

  • Person must be terminally ill or "permanently physically incapacitated"
  • Request must be made to and approved by doctor and psychiatrist
  • Both must be asked twice after 15-days cooling off period
  • Assistance must be supervised by the approving doctor
  • Close friends and relatives banned from administering drug
  • Only over-16s qualify
  • Applicants must be registered with Scottish GP for 18 months
  • Bill does not apply to those with dementia or other degenerative mental condition

Some critics have claimed it could have led to Scotland becoming a "suicide tourism" destination, along with other countries where the practice is legal, such as Switzerland.

There have also been concerns it could fail to safeguard frail, elderly people.

Holding up a piece of literature linked to the group, she said: "I'll cut to the chase and condemn as unworthy and cheap, the contribution made by the publishers and authors of this catalogue of linguistic contortions, headed 'Care not Killing'.

"This postcard was distributed through churches and caused alarm among frail, elderly and disabled people."

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said she was opposed to the bill, adding the Scottish government's view was that it did not support a change in the law.

She said: "I personally find myself particularly concerned and fundamentally concerned about the difficulty I think would always and inevitably be present in determining that someone choosing to end their life had not been subjected to undue influence."

During the debate, MSPs from all parties spoke out for and against the bill.

Labour MSP Michael McMahon described it as "dangerous and unnecessary", while the two Green MSPs - Robin Harper and Patrick Harvie - said current laws were unclear and "served nobody".

Lib Dem MSP Ross Finnie, who convened a special Holyrood committee set up to scrutinise the legislation reiterated its conclusion that it was "not persuaded that the case had been made to decriminalise the law of homicide as it applies to assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia".

In England, the director of public prosecutions previously indicated it was unlikely that legal action would be taken 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.

MSPs are also currently considering a separate bill to strengthen palliative care for the terminally ill, although Holyrood's health committee has questioned the need for legislation to improve services.

The rejection of the bill came after Lord Falconer launched an inquiry into assisted dying in the UK, insisting it would be "an objective, dispassionate and authoritative analysis of the issues".

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