Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Monday, 8 December 2008

Assisted suicide law change bid

Margo MacDonald
Margo MacDonald says the terminally ill should have choices

A campaign to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland has been launched by Independent MSP Margo MacDonald.

The Lothian MSP, who has Parkinson's Disease, hopes to bring legislation before the parliament next year.

She is sending out a consultation paper and needs the support of at least 18 MSPs to bring forward a Holyrood bill.

Mrs MacDonald, 65, said people should have the right to choose the time and place of their death and she called for a debate on the issue.

There are lots of people up and down Scotland who would like to make sure that they miss the last, and for them most intolerable part of life
Margo MacDonald
Independent MSP
Her proposals would incorporate the patient's right to choose to end his or her life, with assistance, into the principles of palliative care.

Speaking as she launched her consultation at Holyrood, Mrs MacDonald said this was "the start of that process towards changing the law in Scotland which would allow autonomy in the matter of physician assisted suicide - dying".

She added: "There are lots of people up and down Scotland who would like to make sure that they miss the last, and for them most intolerable part of life, because of incapacity, loss of dignity, loss of control, insufferable pain perhaps."

The MSP said a doctor helping a patient to die could be "the last caring act of physician who is caring for a patient".

Under her proposals people would need to be registered with a doctor for "a considerable period of time" before they could request help to die.

They would also have to make two requests for such help, at least 15 days apart.

The Independent MSP has Parkinson's Disease

And following someone's death, there would be a review committee who would verify if all the criteria and safeguards had been met.

Those with a degenerative, irreversible condition would be able to ask a doctor for help to die, as would those who had "unexpectedly become incapacitated to a degree they find intolerable".

However, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said previously that she was "not persuaded" the law should be changed to make assisted suicide legal.

Ms Sturgeon said that she was not sure sufficient safeguards could be put in place to prevent the system from being abused.

Mrs Macdonald said her proposed system would be "physician-assisted" suicide.

Dr George Fearnie, from the British Medical Association in Scotland, said he had "enormous sympathy" for terminally ill patients but he said that assisting with suicide was not a role he wanted physicians to take on.

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

He said: "We are a caring profession - what we don't want is people not to be reassured that the profession are there doing their best for them - to worry about the motives of that doctor.

"People who have a debilitating illness which might end their lives are extremely vulnerable and our worry is that they're going to contemplate ending their lives when that really isn't their wish.

"I've never shirked my duty of administering pain relieving medication even if that hastens the death of someone - what is being asked here is something rather beyond that and I don't believe society wants us to assume that position."

Dr Peter Carter, from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said everyone in healthcare should be prepared to discuss the issue in an "open and non-judgemental way", and said the RCN would be talking its members about the issue.

He also called for more funding for palliative care.

The leader of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, said it was not up to us to decide when we die.

He said: "Life is a gift from Almighty God, given us through Almighty God through the cooperation of our parents.

"If God gives us that gift, He can take that from us but we're not taking it from Him and as it were saying, 'well God, I'm finished with life because I can't cope with cancer or Parkinson's or whatever it has to be'. We just wait on God calling us to himself."

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