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Page last updated at 17:55 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 18:55 UK
Law Lords' 'suicide' ruling welcomed

Margo MacDonald investigated suicide bags, known as exit hoods

The Law Lords' ruling on assisted suicide has been welcomed by right to die campaigners including one of Scotland's most popular public figures MSP Margo MacDonald who herself suffers from Parkinson's disease.

She has in the past spoken openly of her desire to choose the moment of her death and last year made a deeply personal Panorama film, meeting people with illnesses like hers who were also desperate to choose the time and place of their death.

Up until I saw the exit bag, I think I had a rather academic approach to this. Seeing that bag and handling it, just brought it all home to me how awful it must be for some people
Margo MacDonald MSP

The new ruling followed an appeal by multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, who wanted to ensure that her husband would not face prosecution if he helped her travel abroad to die.

The Law Lords agreed the law on assisted suicide needed to be clarified and are now likely to ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to set out when prosecutions would happen.

Although no-one has been prosecuted in such circumstances, they could potentially have faced 14 years in prison.

Quality time

Margo, who hopes to introduce her bill to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland in the autumn said: "I am ever so pleased for Diane and her husband.

"This is good. It will give them more good quality time together."

Everyone hoped that it did not get to the stage where a person felt they had to take their own life but it was about people feeling they had the option to do so.

"It is something of an insurance policy. She is going to be feeling better and I am really glad for them."

The Department of Public Prosecutions in England would now have to look at the law which was clearly now "not usable" and had fallen into "disuse".

Public opinion was on the side of change with between two thirds and three quarters of people polled supporting reform.

Scotland and England could influence each other with reform from hereon.

Margo's film for Panorama "I'll Die When I Choose" was broadcast in December last year and highlighted the desperation felt by those who wanted to end their lives.

It also explored whether British law should be changed.

Among those Margo met was John Bowman whose mother died with his father's assistance in 1999 after a 10-year battle with Parkinson's.

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

Until Mr Bowman's father had himself died, the family kept the truth of her death secret, aware of the potential punishment awaiting those who assist with suicide.

Mr Bowman recounted how his parents had sought "advice from like-minded people", and then used drugs to suppress his mother's breathing and a special bag obtained from Canada to asphyxiate her.

Awful reality

Suicide bags, or exit hoods as they are sometimes known, are available online and to investigate further Margo bought one herself - an experience which brought home the awful reality of the desperation some people faced.

The bag took three weeks to arrive and she admitted after receiving it: "Up until I saw the exit bag, I think I had a rather academic approach to this...

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

"Seeing that bag and handling it, just brought it all home to me how awful it must be for some people. It must make them feel just the way I felt only a 100 times worse."

Margo's own campaign to change the law began when the Scottish Parliament was debating the issue.

"I only entered into that debate to correct some misinformation but I have been overwhelmed by the public response to it, even if some politicians have chosen to stay silent," she said.

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

The Panorama film was Margo's contribution to the debate: "In making it I met wonderful people who have been criminalised by our laws on assisted suicide."

Margo said that when she started making the film she was not sure whether it could achieve anything but the people she met and what she learned about the business of assisted dying and euthanasia convinced her of the need for a full debate.

Today's judgment came in the same month that the Royal College of Nursing declared it was dropping its opposition to assisted suicide and adopting a neutral stance.

And in a recent poll, 74% of respondents said doctors should be allowed to help terminally-ill patients to end their lives.

As many as 115 people from the UK have gone to the Swiss clinic Dignitas to die, but no-one has been prosecuted so far.

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