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23 February 2012

Renewed attempt to legalise assisted suicide

Renewed attempt to legalise assisted suicide

Just over a year after her Bill was heavily defeated in the Scottish parliament, independent MSP Margo MacDonald began her renewed attempt to legalise assisted suicide.

In December 2010, the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill was comprehensively defeated at Stage 1 - only 16 MSPs voted in favour. But Ms MacDonald continues to claim that there is widespread public support for legislation and is convinced that a revised and edited Bill will gain the required support in Parliament. Launching her new Bill and consultation, Ms MacDonald declared that much had changed in the 14 months since the last Bill was defeated, subjectively sighting the new raft of MSPs brought in by the May 2011 Scottish parliament elections and the supportive correspondence she has continued to receive since the last Bill was defeated.

Ms MacDonald also cites the progression of the debate across the UK. The launch came soon after the publication of a UK-wide report by the year-long Commission on Assisted Dying, chaired by Lord Falconer, which called for doctors to be given the right to help terminally ill people kill themselves.

Ms MacDonald's new consultation attempts to correct and answer some of the criticisms of the first Bill. Most significantly the proposed Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill is limited to assisted suicide and will not legalise voluntary euthanasia. Therefore the Bill will only decriminalise the actions of those "who assist a qualifying person to end their own life within the parameters set by the Bill".
Many opposed the first Bill because it did not provide adequate safeguards which could have resulted in elderly or vulnerable people being pressurised to end their lives prematurely. However, while the consultation suggests that these safeguards have been improved and strengthened, many have in fact been removed and weakened. For example, the new Bill removes the requirement for a compulsory psychiatric assessment and removes any direct physician assistance in an assisted suicide. Instead it proposes the training of specific "facilitators" or a "friend at the end" who would be licensed by the government to help the terminally ill to take their lives.

MSPs have already criticised Ms MacDonald for introducing a Bill so soon after the last was so conclusively defeated by the Scottish parliament. The government also came out strongly against this new proposal, insisting that the "deliberate taking of life remains illegal".

Central to this Bill is the concept of "autonomy of choice" - that "each of us has the same right to exercise choice and take responsibility for the manner of our death as we do with all other actions during our lifetime". The Alliance remains convinced that life and the right to life, is ultimately a gift from God which should only be given and taken by Him. We would encourage all our members and supporters to respond to Ms MacDonald's consultation by the deadline for submissions on 30 April. For help on how to do this, please get in touch.