Right-to-die supporters protest as Holyrood votes

Late MSP Margo MacDonald. Picture: Esme Allen
Late MSP Margo MacDonald. Picture: Esme Allen
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CAMPAIGNERS in favour of assisted suicide will demonstrate outside the Scottish ­Parliament this afternoon as MSPs vote on whether the Bill drawn up by the late Margo MacDonald should be allowed to proceed to its next stage.

Supporters of the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill are urging Holyrood politicians to listen to their constituents, after polls showed nearly three-quarters of Scots back the principle that people with terminal illness or degenerative conditions should be able to seek help to end their lives.

However, the Church of Scotland has written to MSPs, calling on them to do more to improve palliative care rather than passing the assisted suicide legislation.

Ms MacDonald, the Independent MSP for Lothian who died last year, proposed a Bill on assisted dying in 2010, but it was defeated by 85 votes to 16. The proposals were extensively redrafted for the current Bill, but Holyrood’s health committee criticised the new legislation over the lack of clarity in its language and warned it would need “substantial amendment” if it proceeded to the next stage.

Bob Scott, spokesman for campaign group My Life, My Death, My Choice, said: “What we have been saying to MSPs is that the vote at Stage 1 is only on the principles of the legislation, not the detail, and even polling by opponents of the Bill shows over two-thirds of Scots are in favour of some kind of legislation.

“Passing the Bill at Stage 1 would allow amendments to be tabled and debated to see if they can deliver the safeguards and protections that all MSPs, as well as those of us in favour of the Bill, want to see.”

He said opinion polling had found 73 per cent of adults supported proposals to legalise assisted suicide in principle.

“We hope that one of the things MSPs will take into consideration is the views of the electorate, who are clearly in favour, and do not dismiss the Bill out of hand at such an early stage in the parliamentary process.”

Meanwhile, the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council, told MSPs in a letter of her deep concern that people are able to live life in all its fullness.

She said: “We believe that rather than seeking to legislate for assisted dying, the parliament must instead increase its efforts to ensure that there is high quality palliative care available to people in every part of Scotland.

“The certainty of world-class palliative care is the best response to those who are fearful of the final stages of their lives or the life of one they love.

“We believe this Bill represents much more than simply a tinkering with the law, breaching as it does the societal ­prohibition on the taking of human life.

“It carries implications for the whole of society, not just for those who will seek assisted death, and for attitudes to many aspects of health and social care.”

THE BILL

Anyone seeking assisted suicide would have to sign a Preliminary Declaration, followed at least seven days later, a “First Request for Assistance” and at least 14 days later, a “Second Request for Assistance” – both endorsed by two medical professionals.

A drug or other substance to end the person’s life would be prescribed. A licensed facilitator would be assigned to provide comfort and assistance for the person when they take the drug. If the person chooses not to commit suicide within 14 days of the “Second Request for Assistance” then the drug will be taken away, and a further “Second Request for Assistance” would be needed.