Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Thursday, 30 October 2008

MSP to launch 'right to die' bill

Margo MacDonald
Mrs MacDonald was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2002

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald has confirmed she is to attempt to introduce a new law to make assisted suicide legal in Scotland.

The veteran politician, who has Parkinson's disease, hopes to bring legislation before the Scottish Parliament next year.

She told MSPs earlier this year she would like the right to end her own life if her condition deteriorated.

Mrs MacDonald is to launch a consultation on the plan next month.

She unveiled her plans the day after wheelchair-bound Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy failed in her bid to clarify the law on assisted suicide in England.

West Mercia Police are investigating the death of paralysed rugby player Daniel James, 23, in a Swiss assisted suicide clinic, where he had travelled with the intention of killing himself.

There has been a rise in public interest in this topic and politicians have something of a duty to investigate it
Margo MacDonald MSP

Mrs MacDonald said she believed it was "inhumane and ultimately futile" for the law to deny the right to choose when to die, and that she hoped to instigate a "searching public debate" on the issue.

"There has been a rise in public interest in this topic and politicians have something of a duty to investigate it since it impacts on so may people and their families," she added.

Mrs MacDonald's bill would incorporate the patient's right to choose to end his or her life, with assistance, into the principles of palliative care.

She travelled to the Netherlands last year to make a BBC television documentary on the issue.

The Dutch system allows patients to enlist the help of a trained and recognised medical practitioner.

'Proper knowledge'

"I was convinced the Dutch way was preferable by far to the trek to Switzerland undertaken by an estimated 100-plus UK citizens who would have jeopardised the legal position of anyone giving them assistance," Mrs MacDonald said.

The MSP accepted there may be difficult cases such as Alzheimer's patients who do not have the mental capacity to make a decision.

"This is where the Dutch experience is very valuable to me," she said.

"One of the things they stressed was that before a patient would ask a physician to help them exercise their choice, the physician had to have a proper knowledge of that patient.

"They had to have a relationship that stretched back over years rather than weeks - you couldn't walk in off the street and ask a doctor: will you help me end my life?"

But she conceded: "I can see difficulties, I can see anomalies. That's a very, very sensitive area as to how you deal with someone whose mental capacity is affected."

Mrs MacDonald's Holyrood colleague, the Lib Dem MSP Jeremy Purvis, had a previous bill on the issue before the Scottish Parliament but it was not passed.

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