Margo MacDonald wins backing in bid to permit 'dignified dying'

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MARGO MacDonald's bid to legalise assisted suicide has been given a boost after the Humanist Society of Scotland launched a campaign backing her proposal.

• Parkinson's sufferer Julie Johnston Picture: Neil Hanna

The independent MSP was joined by members of the pressure group when it announced its support for her controversial End of Life Choices Bill.

Next week, parliamentarians will begin hearing expert evidence from witnesses on the highly contentious proposal, which would see the very ill request help to die with assistance from a medically qualified person.

Ms MacDonald's proposal has already generated a fierce backlash from religious groups and she has faced strong opposition from Care Not Killing, an alliance of individuals, human rights groups and faith-based organisations.

Yesterday, she welcomed the support of the HSS, a growing secular organisation that believes lives should be guided by "reason and compassion rather than religion or superstition".

Despite the vocal opposition to Ms MacDonald's proposals, HSS claimed that most people in Britain supported physician assisted suicide.

At the launch of the Let Me Choose campaign, HSS Secretary John Bishop said: "Most British people support physician-assisted suicide, as reports compiled since the mid-90s have shown.

"Also, there are similar majorities in support in other European countries.

"Therefore, we are disappointed that some of the objections to the bill voiced in the Care Not Killing campaign are ill-informed, deliberately misleading and quite irrational."

Juliet Wilson, convener of the HSS, added that the organisation had launched a website "Letmechoose.org.uk" to publicise their campaign.

Ms MacDonald's End of Life Choices Bill would give anyone aged over 16 who is terminally ill or has a progressive degenerative disease the right to request help to die with assistance from a medically-qualified person.

Ms MacDonald has called for a free vote on the issue, which has split MSPs across the party divide. Ms MacDonald, who has Parkinson's disease, wants to ensure those who request it have the right to a "peaceful and dignified" death. She said: "The HSS, I believe, is much more in touch with opinion in Scotland, and beyond for that matter, than the Care Not Killing campaign which misses the point entirely.

"My bill rests on patient autonomy, will affect clearly-defined groups of people and entails a rigorous procedure and reporting."

The HSS has about 6,500 members and its president is the author Christopher Brookmyre.

The campaign launch was attended by Julie Johnston, from Edinburgh, who, like the MSP, has Parkinson's disease and was joined by husband Andrew.

She said: "We support it because Margo's trying to give people like me control of our lives. I want to be able do what is necessary with help and guidance."

Mrs Johnston explained that her quality of life had diminished rapidly with the onset of her disease. She is no longer able to enjoy her hobbies of gardening and upholstering furniture.

She added: "The message of Jesus is so different.

"I find it hard to believe that a forgiving God would condemn assisted suicide in a situation like ours."