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Scottish Parliamentary Committee Rejects Right To Die Bill

November 18, 2010

A Holyrood committee has recommended that a bill to legalise assisted suicide should be thrown out.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald is behind the End of Life Assistance Bill, which would give terminally ill people over 16 the right to die.

The committee looking at the bill said it found no case for changing the law. The bill will now be debated by MSPs.

Ms MacDonald wants to give “autonomy” over how people die but opponents say it would encourage suicide tourism.

They believe the move would result in 1,000 people ending their lives each year.

However, Ms MacDonald, who has Parkinsons disease, dismissed the claims and said it was immoral that those who wished to end their lives due to terminal illnesses should have to travel to Switzerland.

The MSP for the Lothians has also accused fellow MSPs of making up their minds before hearing the evidence.

Although the special parliament committee has rejected the legislation, the matter will be subject to a full parliament vote within the next few weeks.

The committee’s stage 1 report, based on written and oral evidence, said it did not recommend the general principles of the bill to the Scottish Parliament.

Committee convener Ross Finnie said: “In the last few months, we have taken evidence on the bill’s proposals from a wide range of organisations including medical practitioners, palliative care charities, religious groups and legal experts based in the UK and overseas.

“Following detailed discussions on the evidence, we’ve concluded that there are several flaws in the bill.

“Fundamentally, the committee wrestled with the bill’s premise that it would help maintain an individual’s dignity and autonomy as they move towards the end of their life.”

The report concluded making a case on the grounds of “dignity” was problematic in defining “with dignity” and that grounds of individual “autonomy” were not accepted by all members of the committee.

It said there was a strong view that individual choice had to be considered within the context of society as a whole.

The report also found it would have been clearer for “assisted suicide” and “voluntary euthanasia” to have been dealt with as separate provisions, rather than combining them under one definition.

It is not illegal to attempt suicide in Scotland, but helping someone take their own life could lead to prosecution.

Ms MacDonald’s bill would allow people whose lives become intolerable through a progressive degenerative condition, a trauma or terminal illness to seek a doctor’s help in dying.

It also proposes a series of safeguards which would prevent abuse of the legislation.

In England, the director of public prosecutions has indicated he is unlikely to take legal action against those who assist the suicide of friends or relatives who have a settled and informed wish to die.

However, no such guidance has been given in Scotland.

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