Margo MacDonald: Allow right-to-die patients a ‘friend at the end’ to help suicide

Margo MacDonald has backed a parliamentary debate. Picture: Neil Hanna
Margo MacDonald has backed a parliamentary debate. Picture: Neil Hanna
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FRIENDS of critically-ill Scots could be offered training to help patients take their own lives under a controversial proposal to legalise assisted suicide.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald wants to introduce a “friend at the end” assisted dying scheme that would allow government “licensed facilitators” as well as medics to help seriously ill people take their own lives.

Ms MacDonald announced the proposal at Holyrood yesterday in a fresh attempt to give terminally ill people in Scotland the right to choose when to die, after a previous End of Life Assistance Bill was blocked by MSPs in a free vote at Holyrood.

But Ms MacDonald, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, has now revealed key changes to the proposed shake-up in Scotland’s suicide laws, which would see Scottish government ministers licensing individuals to collect medicine for sick friends and to stay with the patient until they had used the drugs prescribed by a GP to end their life.

Although those signing up to the scheme would be forbidden from administering the medicine, such as by injecting a patient, Ms MacDonald’s would allow them to help someone wanting to take their own life in “any way necessary to enable the person take the medication correctly.”

The helper’s role would also involve reporting the death to the police, but could mean that the suicide would have to be filmed to prove that it had been carried out by the patient themselves.

Voluntary groups would be able to sign up to help run the scheme, with John Bishop, executive secretary of the Humanist Society Scotland saying that his organisation “may be able to play a role” in helping with assisted suicide and that some of its members may be “suitable” to run the scheme.

Ms MacDonald said allowing licensed friends of patients to assist suicides would “reassure people who felt at risk or vulnerable” under the original proposals to just allow doctors and nurses in the process.

The MSP, when asked during the launch of the bill’s consultation yesterday, admitted the scheme would work on a similar basis to organ donor pre-consent schemes, with people able to opt in at “any point”.

Under her proposals, patients would have to make two formal requests for permission to carry out assisted suicide, which would have to be approved by medical professions.

But the Lothians MSP said the patient would have to take their life within the following 28 days to ensure they were “still of the mind” about their decision.

Ms MacDonald also pointed to a proposal in England to allow patients with less than a year left to live to ask their doctor for a dose of medication that would end their life. She said it showed that the law both north and south of the Border was “travelling down the same road”.

Ms MacDonald said: “At the moment, we are penalising a small group of people who have to experience a less than peaceful death, who are sometimes forced to go abroad to die.

“The main difference with the bill last time is that this time we’re asking does it have to be a doctor or nurse? It could be a person who’s trained to be a friend to the end.

“Not all GPs will want to take part, as it’s a matter of autonomy and conscience.”

However, the proposals were attacked as “peculiar” by senior Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone, who was “disappointed” the bill had returned to Holyrood so soon after being voted down in the last parliament.

The Scottish Government repeated its opposition to a change in the law, as it insisted that the “deliberate taking of life remains illegal”.