Margo backs proposal to let doctors help patients die

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INDEPENDENT Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald today welcomed a UK report proposing that doctors should be allowed to help terminally ill patients to die, providing they have less than a year to live due to severe illness or injury.

The independent Commission on Assisted Dying, chaired by Labour peer Lord Falconer, said the measures would replace the “inadequate and incoherent” laws surrounding loved ones helping patients to end their lives, which can lead to prosecution.

Some senior MSPs north of the Border have expressed concerns over the findings, saying such policy decisions should be left to medical professionals.

But the proposals were backed by Ms MacDonald, who put forward a bill on assisted dying to the Scottish Parliament two years ago. That bill was voted down overwhelmingly, but Ms MacDonald, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, is planning to bring back fresh proposals in the near future.

She said Lord Falconer’s report was a chance to revisit the issue. She said: “He and I have gone about our objectives in different ways but I am certainly willing to learn from anything unexpected that he uncovers in his investigation and I know that he has been interested in both of our bills in Scotland.

“I think my second attempt reflects what we learned from the debate and the evidence giving during the first bills progress in Holyrood.

“As a result I think this second bill will be an improvement and meets some of the practical concerns expressed to us by various groups.

“In the process of pursuing patient autonomy and the rights of the patient to determine when to end a life that has become intolerable to him or her as a result of their irreversible condition, I think our proposal may be slightly ahead of Lord Falconer’s work so far.”

Today’s report from the commission said a number of high profile cases involving the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland meant a law change was necessary. But it added stringent safeguards must be in place to protect those who might not have the mental capacity to make such a choice, or who might be clinical depressed.

Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “My primary concern is that we should trust the medical profession rather than going down this route, which has been tried unsuccessfully in other countries.”