Concern over assisted suicide ‘time limit’

Campaigners for assisted suicide campaign outside the Scottish Parliament last year. Picture: Esme Allen
Campaigners for assisted suicide campaign outside the Scottish Parliament last year. Picture: Esme Allen
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THE prospect of a two-week “time limit” being placed on Scots under the proposed new laws on assisted suicide has been questioned by MSPs.

Holyrood’s justice committee fears it could place “unintended pressure” on those wrestling with the dilemma of whether to end their lives through the planned legislation.


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The committee also warns that the role of the proposed “friend at the end”, who would help a person make the final act of taking their lives, is not clear.

Justice committee convener Christine Grahame said: “There were concerns that setting a time limit between the second request and the act of suicide might put unintended pressure on some people.

“This is a further difficult area that would benefit from more scrutiny.”

Under the proposed legislation, only those who are terminally ill or suffering from deteriorating progressive conditions which make life intolerable will be able to seek assisted suicide.

Requests to GPs for an assisted suicide must be backed up by a second professional opinion, and followed by a 14-day “cooling off” period.

A second request must then be made, after which a doctor supplies a licensed facilitator with a prescription to enable assisted suicide to take place.

If the prescription is not used within a 14-day limit, it must be returned to the chemist.

The Law Society of Scotland has been among the groups which have voiced concerns over the “time limit”.

“What if the person is coming towards the end of the 14-day time limit and needs another couple of hours? How will this be enforced?,” said Alison Britton, convener of the society’s health and medical law committee last year.

The MSPs also say that record- keeping must be watertight to avoid “police investigation or possible prosecution” for those involved.

The bill is the second attempt to change the law and was launched by the late independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who died last year.

It would also mean one of the doctors concerned would supply a “licensed facilitator” with a prescription to enable assisted suicide to take place.

This “friend at the end” has no relationship with the patient and is given the task of collecting the prescription and agreeing the process of assisted suicide – including whether the person wishes to say goodbye to their family and friends.

“Clarity is essential,” Ms Grahame said. “The role of the licensed facilitator is one area where more detail is needed, especially given the potential consequences for those involved. We recommend that the lead committee explores this and other issues in more depth.”

Wider scrutiny of the proposed legislation will begin next week at the health committee.

The My Life, My Death, My Choice campaign group, which backs the new laws, welcomed the report. “We are delighted the committee has found no legal principle which would prevent the bill from becoming law,” a spokesman said.

“The details they highlight would be up to the Scottish Parliament to decide should they wish to amend these parts of the bill.”


Video outlines assisted suicide legislation plans


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