Page last updated at 16:55 GMT, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 17:55 UK

Sick patients 'need right to die'

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Margo MacDonald investigates "exit hoods"

Veteran politician Margo MacDonald has said doctors should be allowed to help terminally ill patients end their life.

Writing for the BBC Scotland news website, the independent, Lothian MSP, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, says current laws are criminalising those who agree with the right to die with dignity.


In March this year, I spoke publicly for the first time about my views on the right to die.

I hadn't actually planned to say anything. But listening to my fellow MSPs in parliament during a debate about assisted dying forced me to my feet.

It was clear that many did not appreciate how Scotland's current laws are failing people in desperate need.

As someone with a degenerative condition - Parkinson's - this debate is not a theory with me. The possibility of having the worst form of the disease at the end of life has made me think about unpleasant things.

I feel strongly that, in the event of losing my dignity or being faced with the prospect of a painful or protracted death, I should have the right to choose to curtail my own, and my family's, suffering.

It's fair to say my contribution to the debate caused quite a stir. My postbag and e-mail inbox were filled with hundreds of messages congratulating me on my stance.

I know people with terminal illnesses now make the awful trip to Mexico to buy lethal doses of drugs to take their own lives, all because of our current laws

Some letters recounted dreadful instances where families had been forced to watch helplessly as their loved ones died. Only a handful were critical.

The film I've made with BBC Scotland's investigations team is an attempt to show how our laws are criminalising compassionate people.

It also aims to lift the veil on those people who are determined to die, and to uncover the underground suicide industry that our current law is creating.

During this emotional journey I met some wonderful people. One was John, who agreed to share a family secret and tell me about his mum's death.

The truth was that his dad, having nursed John's mum for years through her Parkinson's, carried out her final wish. He killed her as she lay in bed.

It was a mark of the love they shared. Yet, if the authorities had found out, he could have been charged with culpable homicide or even murder.

MSP Margo MacDonald's March 2008 statement to the Scottish Parliament

How can it be right that compassionate people be criminalised in this way?

Val's story was another that affected me profoundly. Four years ago she was a healthy, active woman. Now, with the most aggressive form of MS, she spends 22-hours-a-day in bed and is moved by a hoist.

She is terrified of choking to death and wants to take control to prevent this from happening.

The only way she can do this legally is by travelling hundreds of miles from home to Switzerland, and paying to die. She is saving her benefits to go there.

I've also become aware of sinister goings-on.

Online, euthanasia campaigners show viewers how to make an 'exit hood' to end your life, and I know people with terminal illnesses now make the awful trip to Mexico to buy lethal doses of drugs to take their own lives, all because of our current laws.

I am in no doubt that our legal system must change.

As I said in the debate back in March, there are many, many people who have a lot less time than I have.


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SEE ALSO
MSP to research assisted suicide
13 Apr 08 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
MSPs urged to reject euthanasia
31 Jan 07 |  Scotland

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