MSPs reject assisted dying Bill but campaign goes on

Campaigners outside the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Campaigners outside the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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THE Bill to legalise assisted suicide, originally proposed by late independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald, has been rejected by the Scottish Parliament – but supporters said the issue would not go away.

MSPs voted by 82 to 36 against the proposed legislation, which would have allowed people with terminal illness or degenerative conditions to seek help to end their life.

The My Life, My Death, My Choice group, which had campaigned in favour of the Bill, said it was “naturally 
disappointed” but pointed out the number of MSPs in favour had more than doubled since a previous Bill proposed by Ms MacDonald in 2010 was defeated by 85 votes to 16.

A spokesman said: “This shows politicians are increasingly ill at ease with the current law surrounding assisted suicide and are beginning to catch up with the views of their constituents.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie, who took over the Bill after Ms MacDonald’s death last year, said the vote was “clearly a step forward for the argument”.

He said the detail of the Bill was “not good enough” to persuade MSPs.

But he said: “We are going to see continued debate in the country, just as there is right across the developed world.”

Care Not Killing, the umbrella group opposing the Bill, hailed the outcome as a “major triumph”.

Convener Dr Gordon Macdonald said: “MSPs have issued a ringing endorsement of our views with this comprehensive vote, taking a bold and critical step which marks a major victory for the vulnerable in our society who are most in need of protection. The present law making assisted suicide illegal is clear and right and does not need changing.

“It is right that the law is not to be changed to accommodate the wishes of a small number of desperate and determined people at the expense of the rights of others.”

During the debate, Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie told how he had changed his mind and decided to support the Bill. He said he believed the status quo was no longer an option.

He said: “In denying people who are terminally ill and of sound mind the choice to end their life, what we as a society are doing is extending human suffering. I do not believe that is any longer acceptable.”

Lothian Labour MSP Neil Findlay said the issue was the most difficult he had had to consider as a politician. “I am deeply, deeply torn,” he said.

“We will all have been told of relatives suffering lingering, painful deaths with families desperate to end that suffering. But we will also have been told of people just as desperate to milk every last second out of a life well lived, who would do it all over again if they could.

“My head tells me to support this Bill, but my heart and soul tell me not to.”

Christine Grahame, SNP MSP for Midlothian South, argued that, despite concerns about details of the Bill, it should be allowed to proceed to the next stage of consideration so these could be debated.

MSPs had a free vote on the Bill without direction from their parties.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com