I'll try again says Margo MacDonald as right-to-die bill is crushed

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A BID to make Scotland the first part of the UK to legalise assisted suicide was rejected by a margin of five votes to one yesterday.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald's member's bill split the Scottish cabinet as well as political parties in a free vote on the issue at Holyrood. But the bulk of MSPs were opposed and voted 85-16 against the measure.

Opponents said it showed there was no hunger for change, but Mrs MacDonald, who has Parkinson's disease, pledged to pursue the issue.

She said: "Parliament's will must be respected, but parliament's will can change.

"If I stand next time, and if I'm elected, people will know without a doubt that I'm going to pursue the idea and I'll surely be able to say that there's some sort of mandate implicit in that."

The proposals called for anyone aged over 16 to be able to request help to die. The person must be diagnosed as terminally ill and find life intolerable.

First Minister Alex Salmond and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, the health secretary, both voted against the plans.

Ms Sturgeon said: "I find myself particularly concerned and fundamentally concerned about the difficulty I think would always and inevitably be present in determining that someone choosing to end their life had not been subjected to undue influence."

But she told MSPs that her cabinet colleague, the rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead, would be among those supporting the bill.

Labour's Michael McMahon, the convener of the parliament's cross-party groups on palliative care and disability, branded the proposals "dangerous and unnecessary".

He said: "Society needs to know that you can't have both physician-assisted suicide and palliative care. In reality you can only have one or the other."

Mrs MacDonald praised MSPs who withstood "extraordinary pressure" to support the measure and slammed a high-profile campaign against it organised by the Care Not Killing group.

She told MSPs: "I'll cut to the chase and condemn as cheap and unworthy the contribution made by the publishers and authors of this catalogue of linguistic contortions headed Care Not Killing."

A postcard distributed through some churches had caused "alarm amongst frail and elderly people", she said.

The bill was also opposed by religious groups and by the British Medical Association, which said it undermined the traditional doctor-patient relationship.

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church said last night: "It's a great victory for vulnerable people and the right to life for all.

"It shows there is no real hunger for this kind of change in the country."

The bill's 16 supporters were drawn from the SNP, Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat benches at Holyrood.They included Nationalist former GP Ian McKee, as well as Holyrood health committee convener Christine Grahame.

Liberal Democrat Jeremy Purvis, who previously put forward a similar member's bill, was also in favour. "I would like the law to allow me the greater right, even if I choose not to use it," he said.

"But I wouldn't like someone who may not have the same faith views as me, or who takes a different stance on issues, to deny me that position."