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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 March 2008, 13:41 GMT

MSP calls for right to die debate

Margo MacDonald
Mrs MacDonald revealed she had Parkinson's six years ago

An MSP who said she wanted to have the right to end her own life if her health deteriorated has called for a public debate on assisted suicide.

Margo MacDonald, who has Parkinson's disease, told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme she hoped it was a decision she would never have to make.

But she said she believed terminally ill people should be given the choice of whether to end their lives.

The Scottish Government said it had no plans to change the law.

Mrs MacDonald, 64, an independent MSP for Lothian, said: "I hope obviously, like most people, that nothing like that will be necessary and I might well be very lucky because I have been very lucky up until now with my Parkinson's.

"But there is an element of personal choice that I would prefer to be there for me and to be there for everybody."

There are assisted suicides, we all know that there are, but I don't think people should have to break the law
Margo MacDonald MSP

She said the system should be tied to "living wills", where people make their wishes clear while they are competent and before their condition deteriorates.

And she conceded the law would need to be stringent enough to ensure medical opinion was taken into account, and that vulnerable people were not taken advantage of.

"I fully appreciate there are people who have very, very deep religious faiths which won't allow them even to consider it, but I think perhaps there are more people who would want to see it considered," Mrs MacDonald added.

"I think investigating it and talking about it is the right way to go about it.

"There are assisted suicides, we all know that there are, but I don't think people should have to break the law in order to make a choice about leaving this life with dignity.

"I would need to be absolutely inhuman not to appreciate that people have concerns and I have also got to admit to a certain ignorance of the exact facts as regards how this is carried out in Holland."

Mrs MacDonald, who confirmed in 2002 that she had a mild form of Parkinson's, added that she had been moved to speak out during a Holyrood debate on the issue after being surprised by comments from other MSPs that there was no support for legally assisting people to die.

'Fundamental right'

The debate was called by Liberal Democrat MSP Jeremy Purvis, who restated his view that the law should be changed to allow terminally ill people to ask for such assistance.

Sarah Wootton, chief executive of campaign group Dignity in Dying, welcomed Mrs MacDonald's comments.

She added: "The indignity that people can suffer as a result of some terminal diseases extends far beyond physical pain.

"It is time that society recognised that prolonging life is not always what the individual wants.

"Dying with dignity should be a fundamental right for all, and the option of assisted dying must be available to those who are terminally ill and mentally competent."

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon told Wednesday's Holyrood debate that the government had no plans to change the law on assisted suicide.

She explained: "While suicide is not illegal in Scotland, actively assisting someone to end their life is.

"We have, at this stage, no plans to change the law."

'Please let me die with dignity'
27 Mar 08 |  Tayside and Central
MSP wants right to end own life
26 Mar 08 |  Scotland
MSPs urged to reject euthanasia
31 Jan 07 |  Scotland
Call to let patients die in peace
11 Nov 04 |  Scotland

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