Friday, January 22, 2010
MSP Margo MacDonald sets out proposals to legalise assisted suicide
Margo MacDonald, the independent MSP, today unveiled a Bill that she hopes will allow those whose lives have become intolerable a dignified death at home.
If the Bill were to be passed Scotland would become the only place in the UK where it would be legal to help someone to end their life.
The Director of Public Prosecutions in England issued guidelines last year spelling out the factors that influence whether someone is prosecuted for helping another to die. They effectively made clear that a person who assisted a relative or close friend on compassionate grounds, where there were no financial motives, was unlikely to face prosecution.
The Lord Advocate in Scotland, however, made clear that such a move would not be followed because of the “different legal landscape” and said that any change in the law would be up to the Scottish government.
Ms MacDonald, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, wants the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill to apply to those with degenerative conditions or severe physical disabilities. She admitted that she and her assistants had deliberated long and hard over appropriate age restrictions and would be willing to look at altering it as the Bill progressed towards the statute books.
The Bill sets up a robust regime for anyone wishing for help to end their life. They must submit two formal requests to a medical practitioner, at least 15 days apart, and have these approved on psychiatric advice. The patient must either have been diagnosed as terminally ill and finds life intolerable or be permanently physically incapacitated to such an extent as not to be able to live independently and finds life intolerable.
The proposals contain safeguards to ensure that Scotland does not become an assisted suicide tourism destination, with those wishing to use the new law having to be registered with a domestic GP for the preceding 18 months.
However, Ms MacDonald admitted: “Speaking absolutely personally, if folk could get a dignified death in Scotland then they are welcome as far as I am concerned.” She said that the bill was full of safeguards to ensure that it was not open to erosion and “legislative drift”.
And she dismissed suggestions — put forward by the anti-euthanasia lobby — that her plans would put pressure on those living with such conditions.
The Bill will now be discussed at committee level before it goes to the full Holyrood chamber for debate.
Asked if she believed that she could garner enough support to see it passed into law, Ms MacDonald said that she was much more optimistic than when she started looking at the issue. She said that she felt MSPs had a greater understanding of the issues and opinion polls showed that the public overwhelmingly wanted the right to choose.
All parties have said that they will allow a free vote on the issue to allow members to follow their conscious. Ms MacDonald insisted that she was not attempting to disabuse anyone of their religious or moral views but wanted to give them options.
Currently, patients would have to travel overseas for help to end their lives, a situation that Ms MacDonald, MSP for the Lothians, said was “absolutely abominable”.
“Dying is the last act of your life and if we accept responsibility for how we live our lives then I really fail to see why there is any demarcation between how we should die,” she said. The politician has already said that she wants the chance to seek assistance to end her own life if her condition deteriorates intolerably. She said yesterday that she did not want to place a loved one in the position where they would have to decide between helping her and breaking the law.
“We don’t know how many people just now think of ending their lives,” she said. “But we do know that lots of people try and it is a sad, sad experience. Some of them succeed but lots of them don’t.”
Revealing the details, which have been 18 months in coming, she admitted that she was “shaking like a leaf” as her condition brought increased tremors at times of stress. “Half the time I wrote the Bill I was shaking too, as it’s important I get it right,” she said.
“It is a detailed Bill,” she said. “It has to be because we cannot leave it open to misinterpretation. In the course of getting to this point we have become aware of the fact that a great deal of people have misinterpreted the aim of this Bill, which is to allow people suffering from degenerative, progressive conditions or are terminally ill, and for whom the idea of palliative care isn’t the answer, to allow those people to seek help to bring their life to an end before nature would decree.”
The Times Online