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Rejection Expected For Scottish Right To Die Bill

December 1, 2010

The Scottish Parliament is expected to reject new laws giving terminally ill people the right to choose when to die, despite claims they are widely backed.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald’s End of Life Assistance Bill aims to make it legal for someone to seek help to end their life.

Ms MacDonald, who has Parkinson’s disease, has claimed there is wide public support for the legislation.

But it is thought the bill will not pass its first parliamentary vote.

MSPs have been allowed a free vote on the bill, rather than on party lines, and it has been supported by a number of members from across the Holyrood parties.

Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon is among the opponents.

The vote at Holyrood comes after Lord Falconer launched an inquiry into assisted dying in the UK, insisting it would be “an objective, dispassionate and authoritative analysis of the issues”.

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.

A majority of MSPs on a special Holyrood committee set up to scrutinise the legislation have already said they were “not persuaded that the case had been made to decriminalise the law of homicide as it applies to assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia”.

The “Care not Killing” alliance of 50 groups, including faith-based organisations, has campaigned strongly against the bill by promoting better palliative care.

Critics have claimed its passing could lead to Scotland becoming a “suicide tourism” destination, along with other countries where the practice is legal, such as Switzerland.

But Ms MacDonald has strongly rejected the claims, and has urged MSPs to recognise what she describes as a strength of public support on the issue as well as the “faith” arguments.

In England, the director of public prosecutions previously indicated it was unlikely that legal action would be taken 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.

Even if the general principles of the End of Life Assistance Bill are approved on Wednesday, the legislation would still face a further two parliamentary votes before becoming law, during which time it could be amended.

MSPs are also currently considering a separate bill to strengthen palliative care for the terminally ill, although Holyrood’s health committee has questioned the need for legislation to improve services.

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