Report on right-to-die Bill raises concerns over effect

Margo MacDonald led the calls for legalising assisted suicide. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Margo MacDonald led the calls for legalising assisted suicide. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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THE Bill to legalise assisted suicide is flawed and will need significant amendments if it is to go ahead, according to MSPs scrutinising the proposals.

A report by Holyrood’s health committee said a majority of members did not support the principles behind the Bill – introduced by independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald before her death last year.

But the report authors refrained from recommending it should be rejected when it is debated by the full parliament because they accepted the issue was a matter of conscience.

The Bill, now being championed by Green MSP Patrick Harvie, proposes people with terminal or life-shortening illnesses should be able to obtain help in ending their suffering it sets out a range of safeguards.

But Holyrood’s health committee raised a number of 
concerns, including an “unacceptable” lack of clarity in some of the language used in the Bill.

The report said some witnesses who gave evidence to the committee felt the Bill did not distinguish adequately between assisted suicide and euthanasia and was not clear about the means of suicide.

It also said: “If assisted suicide were to be permitted, robust safeguards would be required to protect the rights of others – for example, so that people with illnesses and disabilities would continue to feel valued and be provided with the support they need, and so that healthcare professionals would not come under any pressure to be involved in the assisted suicide process.”

Deputy committee convener Bob Doris acknowledged the “good intentions” behind the legislation.

But he said: “The committee agreed that the Bill will need significant amendment should it progress through the parliamentary scrutiny process.”

Gordon MacRae, chief executive of the Humanist Society Scotland, said the report raised some important questions about the detail of the Bill.

He said: “We will be urging parliamentarians not to shut down the debate at this important point.

“The public support for these proposals is clear – almost four in five people in Scotland want to see a compassionate choice for people with life-shortening conditions.”

But Christian charity CARE for Scotland said the report highlighted serious concerns with the Bill and would come as “a blow” for right-to-die 
campaigners. National director Stuart Weir said: “We have been arguing for some time that the legislation is simply not up to scratch.

“Scotland has a proud heritage of caring for life and it would be tragic if that heritage were eroded by introducing such damaging and unnecessary legislation.”

Mr Harvie said it was right that MSPs decide on the issue, each having considered it carefully.

But he added: “It is disappointing the committee has placed so little emphasis on the responses I and others have given to the criticisms of the Bill.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com