Euthanasia reform blocked by MSPs

Mags Kearns

Margo MacDonald’s proposed bill for physician-assisted suicide is failing to gather the necessary support amongst her fellow MSPs.

MacDonald must obtain the backing of at least 18 MSPs in order for the legislation to progress to Parliament. So far, the private members’ bill has only managed to secure the endorsement of four, including MacDonald.

MacDonald, herself a sufferer of Parkinsons Disease, has long been an advocate for euthanasia and assisted suicide. She began her campaign in March 2008 by announcing to Parliament that she should be allowed to end her own life should her condition become too much to bear.

The Independent MSP stressed that sufferers’ conditions would need to be “degenerative, irreversible and causing incapacitation to an irreversible degree” in order to be granted permission under the proposed legislation.

Macdonald said: “I’ve met people who, like me, would like to exercise control over the manner and timing of their death should their condition deteriorate until it becomes intolerable. My first consideration is to persuade MSPs to allow my proposal to be properly scrutinised by the relevant parliamentary committees.”

Included in the proposal are strategies for the prevention of the influx of people from outside Scotland seeking assistance.

The bill has been met with opposition from many religious organisations who have deemed the move as ‘playing God’.

Senior Pastor Karl Martin, of Morningside Baptist Church, said: “This issue is not purely black and white. I can understand the pain and heartache suffered by those affected but the question is not around right or wrong. We should not pass a law that declares it okay to end the life of another.”

He added: “However, I do not believe there is any benefit to be gained in prosecuting family members implicated in patient suicides.”

MacDonald’s proposal, lodged on December 8, outlines plans to legalise physician-assisted suicide in Scotland, allowing patients to end their own life within the terms of palliative care.

Dr. George Fernie of the British Medical Association said: “We are a caring profession. We don’t want people not to be assured that the profession is trying to do their best for them, and to not worry about the motives of that doctor.”

MacDonald insists that public opinion supports the introduction of such legislation. Two surveys carried out in 2006 asserted that between 78 and 83 per cent of Scots agree that terminally ill patients should be allowed to obtain medication from their doctors that would end their lives.

There are currently many places where forms of assisted suicide or euthanasia have already been legalised. Almost 50 Britons have travelled to Swiss clinic Dignitas to commit assisted suicide. Ex International, which deals with assisted suicide, have already pledged to set up a clinic in Scotland should the bill prove successful.

Spokesman Peter Widmer said: “We’d rather people were able to die in their own homes with our help.”

Gordon Brown has stated in Westminster that he is opposed to legislation legalising assisted suicide, because he believed, “nobody should feel under pressure to agree”.

 Scottish Lib Dem Jeremy Purvis lodged a similar proposal in 2006, only acquiring the backing of five MSPs.

MacDonald’s bill requires support from a further 14 MSPs.



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