MSP Margo MacDonald launches new assisted suicide bill

 
Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald said public awareness of assisted suicide had improved in the past few years

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Proposals to give terminally ill people in Scotland the legal right to assisted suicide have been relaunched by the independent MSP Margo MacDonald.

Her previous attempt to change the law was defeated in parliament but she said the public now had better awareness of the issue.

The Lothians MSP, who has Parkinson's disease, outlined her Assisted Suicide Bill in Edinburgh.

The Scottish government has said it does not support a change in the law.

And it is still unclear whether there is majority backing for the measure among MSPs.

The bill's strongest critics have said it could see 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.

Ms MacDonald told the BBC she had learned lessons from her previous attempt to get a bill passed and had brought forward a clearer and more straightforward process.

Her bill would allow people whose lives became intolerable through a progressive degenerative condition or terminal illness to seek a doctor's help in dying.

There are also a series of safeguards which aim to prevent abuse of the legislation.

The main measures in the bill include:

  • Only those who are terminally ill or who are suffering from deteriorating progressive conditions which make life intolerable can seek assisted suicide.
  • An "early warning" aspect, whereby anyone over the age of 16 can inform their GP of their support in principle for assisted suicide.
  • The indication can be noted in the person's medical records, but must be stated at least seven days before they can formally request help to end their life.
  • Any requests to GPs must be backed up by a second professional opinion, and followed by a 14-day "cooling off" period.
  • The process is then repeated again with a second request, after which one of the doctors concerned supplies a licensed facilitator with a prescription to enable assisted suicide to take place.
  • The facilitator, or "friend at the end", has no relationship with the patient and is given the task of collecting the prescription and agreeing the process of assisted suicide.
  • If the prescription is not used within 14 days, it must be returned to the chemist.

Ms MacDonald said: "I decided as soon as we lost the last one that I had to get a better one and reintroduce it, because so many people think this is the right thing to do for people who have a progressive, degenerative condition who are facing a less than dignified end.

Start Quote

Scotland can learn from the damaging effects legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide in other parts of Europe and North America”

End Quote Gordon Macdonald Care Not Killing

"And people who are terminally ill, if they want to go just a bit sooner, they should be able to choose to do so without making anyone subject to prosecution."

In 2010, Ms MacDonald's End of Life Assistance Bill was defeated by 85 votes to 16, with two abstentions, by MSPs who were allowed a free vote on the legislation, rather than on party lines.

But Ms MacDonald said she hoped high-profile cases such as that of Tony Nicklinson in England, who had locked-in syndrome and battled for years for a legal right to end his life, had increased awareness.

And she pointed to last year's report from the Commission on Assisted Dying - set up and funded by campaigners who want to see a change in the law in England and Wales - which said the current system was "inadequate".

Ms MacDonald said she was "pretty certain" support for her bill among MSPs had grown since 2010.

Her new bill is launched a day after opponents of assisted dying from across Europe met to speak out against the move.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe, convened in Brussels, included the Scottish group Care Not Killing, an alliance of 50 groups, including faith-based organisations, which is strongly opposed to Ms MacDonald's proposals.

Assisted suicide - the legal position

Debbie Purdy

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

In England and Wales, the Suicide Act 1961 makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt, which is almost identical to the situation in Northern Ireland.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has to approve any assisted suicide court action in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In 2010, Keir Starmer, then the DPP, issued guidance that made it clear that family or friends who travelled with a loved one to the Swiss suicide group Dignitas would not risk prosecution.

The guidelines were the result of a case brought by Debbie Purdy, a terminally ill woman, who in 2009 won a legal ruling requiring the DPP to set out whether her husband would be committing an offence if he accompanied her to Dignitas to end her life.

Scotland's prosecution service, the Crown Office, has issued no such guidance.

Assisted suicide is legal in Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium as well as Switzerland.

Care Not Killing convener Dr Gordon Macdonald said: "The Scottish Parliament overwhelmingly rejected an attempt by Margo MacDonald to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2010.

"MSPs concluded that vulnerable people would be put at risk from such legislation.

"Scotland can learn from the damaging effects of legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide in other parts of Europe and North America.

"Europe can learn from Scotland's example as a country which has rejected the view that some people's lives are not worth living. We believe that society has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable."

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

The Suicide Act 1961 makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales, which is almost identical to the law in Northern Ireland.

Outside Scotland, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has to approve any assisted suicide court action in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In 2010, Keir Starmer, then the DPP, issued guidance that made it clear that family or friends who travelled with a loved one to the Swiss suicide group Dignitas would not risk prosecution.

Ms MacDonald is pressing ahead with her fresh bill after getting the necessary 18 signatures from other MSPs to bring it to parliament.

She is officially launching the legislation at an event in Edinburgh, along with MSPs representing all the political parties and Silvan Luley, of Dignitas.

Assisted suicide is legal in Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium as well as Switzerland.

In the House of Lords, the Labour peer and former UK Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has proposed a bill on legalising assisted suicide.

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 217.

    "Scotland becoming a "suicide tourism" destination..."

    In the same way that the Yankie states became a destination for "freedom tourists" after they abolished slavery?

    If my circumstances ever dictate, and my own nation is still in the dark ages, I could well become a "suicide tourists".

    However you know it's morally right. So go for it and hope others follow.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 216.

    I would vote for assisted dying if it were made compulsory for politicians.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 215.

    @214 John BA

    I wish I had your faith.I don't think it will go through - but I hope I'm wrong and you're right.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 214.

    :) If I were a betting man I'd put my money on this bill actually going through maybe with some refinements along the way (though how it is now is very good) but it will be passed.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 213.

    I've seen to many friends and relatives (including both my older brothers) die long and agonising deaths. I've heard them beg to be allowed to die. I've looked on as the amount of morphine is increased every day until it is the morphine that finally kills them. Why do we drag it out so long? They are going to die, if I made my dog die like that I would be prosecuted. I never want that death.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 212.

    @205.Have you ever seen anyone with a terminal illness? It's horrible &having seen it with my Gran, I don't want the same for me. My Gran is a huge drain on the family and yes, it would be easier for us if she was dead, but you know what? We care about her and if assisted suicide was legal now we would not want it for her as she can't decided for herself. But I know I never want to be like that.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 211.

    201.DoNweirO666

    LOL. Are the negative vibes here getting you down?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 210.

    Good for Scotland. Wonder if England will ever follow suit...or will it be up to that nasty establishment called NICE that will seal of lot of people's fate by denying them life-saving/prolonging drugs which is a form of euthanasia as they are hastening your death by withholding vital drugs. Hypocritical springs to mind.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 209.

    How ironic, at the same time as these people are trying to assist Scotland in itself in dying.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 208.

    207.Tchernobog
    To be aborted or euthanised, you just have to be weak and inconvenient.
    ---
    Only if you believe all people to be inherently evil psychopaths without empathy for their fellow human beings. This is not the case. Most people commenting here just think those in pain should have a choice as to whether they continue to suffer or not. Just a choice, that's all.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 207.

    To be aborted or euthanised, you just have to be weak and inconvenient.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 206.

    if the going gets to tough?
    not an easy call. but when your in the tigers cave an act of mercy is an act of kindness of compassion.
    i urge MSP'S to vote yes to this act of compassion.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 205.

    200.angry_of_garston
    Yes. I'm sure it will in your left wing Utopia.

    When you have your way, we can add the nuisance of the incontinent and demented elderly and unwanted disabled to the the holocaust of abortion.

    Maybe you'll get to watch your assisted suicides on television, perhaps you can enjoy voting which to execute first?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 204.

    @189 kaybraes
    "it is not part of her remit to decide that what she wants should be imposed upon everyone.We all die,but it is our right to not have someone else decide when"
    Your logic is totally haywire.
    Nobody is wanting to impose euthanasia on anyone.
    It's people like you who are deciding that someone must suffer to the bitter end - You're doing the imposing.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 203.

    I just cannot understand why anyone has the right to tell me how and when I should die, by that I mean someone who is terminally ill or has an incurable disease, And to anyone who mentions religion? please remember not everyone believes in god or religion so why should I have your faith enforced on me. we live we die it's called life.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 202.

    If you wish to have the power to grant eternal life then you must also bear the burden of granting death.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 201.

    @86 the 6th commandment? are you insane? what has Moses got to do with this. Have you no compassion? In the wise words of Oddball, have a little faith baby, have a little faith.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 200.

    Assisted dying is going to be allowed at some point and will keep popping up until it is.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 199.

    comment 192.Hugh Oxford

    It must be awful to be sick and helpless, knowing that interfering types like you believe that "protection" is just another word for "one size fits all, always keep alive" not "protect and respect my choices and autonomy"

    Believe me, if I wanted death and I read your comment, I would despise you utterly for forcing misery upon me. It's unforgivable to choose for another

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 198.

    Seront comment 197:

    What makes you think that "vulnerable" always means "should be denied death"? I've read many reports from people who said they watched their loved ones screaming in pain, begging for death.

    Just about everyone this could possibly cover is vulnerable, the question is: which is to be feared more, accidentally dying or accidentally being forced to live in pain?

 

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