Margo MacDonald's assisted dying Bill is rejected by cross-party group

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THE campaign to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland suffered a setback yesterday when a key Holyrood committee said it could not support new right-to-die legislation.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald, who has Parkinson's disease, is sponsoring a private Member's Bill to change the law.

However, the Scottish parliament committee which scrutinised her proposals said members were "not persuaded the case had been made" and could not recommend the Bill when it comes before MSPs for a crucial vote next week.

The End of Life Assistance Bill stipulates anyone aged over 16 can request help to die. The person must be diagnosed as terminally ill or permanently physically incapacitated, and find life intolerable.

Yesterday's decision was criticised by pro-euthanasia campaigners but was welcomed by the British Medical Association in Scotland.

In its report, the committee said: "Overall, the majority was not persuaded the case had been made to decriminalise the law of homicide as it applies to assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, termed 'end-of-life assistance' in the Bill."

Convener Ross Finnie said members heard evidence from a wide range of organisations, but after "detailed discussions" had concluded "there are several flaws in the Bill"

Ms MacDonald, a Lothians MSP, claimed most MSPs on the committee had a "known hostility" to the basic principle of her proposals. She said: "The criticism made by these MSPs of the Bill's provisions should be evaluated in this context.

"As the debate has become better known, MSPs have told me of constituents who have asked them to support the Bill so it is not killed off before being further scrutinised and perhaps amended. Public opinion continues to support the general principles of the Bill."

The Bill defined end-of-life assistance as "assistance, including the provision or administration of appropriate means, to enable a person to die with dignity and a minimum of distress".

But the committee complained the wording was "confusing and arguably misleading", adding it would have been less ambiguous to use the terms "assisted suicide" and "voluntary euthanasia".

A central argument from supporters of the Bill was that, if passed, it would help preserve an individual's dignity by allowing them to choose the time of their death. But MSPs said dignity could be interpreted in different ways.

They said: "Whilst those in favour of assisted suicide see it as a means of preserving dignity in the terminal stages of life and in the moment of death, those against present an equally compelling argument that a hastened death is undignified by its very hastening."

The organisation Dignity in Dying said five of the six MSPs on the committee had voted against the Bill.And chief executive Sarah Wootton said: "This is almost a reverse proportion of support for assisted dying, compared to the general public."

Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: "If doctors are authorised, by law, to kill or help kill, they are taking on an additional role which we believe is alien to the one of care giver and healer."

He urged MSPs to vote against the Bill next week.