Margo MacDonald law may fall at first hurdle

The late independent MSP Margo MacDonald launched proposals to give terminally ill people in Scotland the legal right to assisted suicide. Pic: Phil Wilkinson

The late independent MSP Margo MacDonald launched proposals to give terminally ill people in Scotland the legal right to assisted suicide. Pic: Phil Wilkinson

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Margo MacDonald’s attempt to win the right for terminally ill patients to end their own lives is in danger of falling at the first hurdle, campaigners fear.

A Bill introduced at the Scottish Parliament by the late Lothians MSP before her death in April might not make it beyond the committee stage if evidence from those against assisted dying is allowed to drown out voices in favour, they claim.

Failure to secure enough support from the nine MSPs on the Health and Sport Committee at Holyrood could harm the Bill’s chances of gaining support in a vote of the full Scottish Parliament. Dr Gillian MacDougall, of Doctors for Assisted Suicide (DAS), said the majority of expert witnesses in the first stage of committee hearings on the Bill, which begins on January 13, are opponents of any legal change.

Dr MacDougall said: “I would like to know why the committee has invited groups such as the Royal College of Physicians in Glasgow to give evidence, knowing they are opposed, but not the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh who are neutral and could provide both viewpoints.

“I hope that the committee will not try to advance a claim that all doctors oppose this legislation where this is clearly not the case.”

Dr MacDougall added that her own group had seen an increase in interest from medical professionals, with 50 doctors signing up “in just a few months”.

The new legal bid has been backed by some criminal advocates, including Niall McCluskey, who said: “The reality is this legislation is clear, it is practical, and more importantly, it would actually help the legal profession by addressing an area of law which is currently murky and ill-defined.”

Duncan McNeil MSP, the convener of the health and sport committee, said it would consider all evidence placed before it and give it equal weight.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie, who took on the role of steering the Bill through parliament following Mrs MacDonald’s death, said the principle of assisted dying was “backed by a majority of the Scottish public”.

He said: “Providing people with terminal or life-shortening illnesses a safe supported option for taking control of the end of their own life would demonstrate compassion and respect for each person’s own choice, and I hope MSPs will give the Bill their support.

“The Scottish Parliament has seen years of debate on Assisted Suicide, and the Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament has taken account of the many arguments on both sides. It aims to present the most robust proposal yet, and has support from MSPs of all parties.

“The principle is also backed by a majority of the Scottish public in opinion polls.”