Assisted suicide plans criticised by MSPs

PLANS to legalise assisted suicide are flawed and face “major challenges”, a Scottish Parliament committee has said.

Mr Harvie said it was disappointing that the committee had placed so little emphasis on the responses given to the criticisms of the Bill. Picture: TSPL
Mr Harvie said it was disappointing that the committee had placed so little emphasis on the responses given to the criticisms of the Bill. Picture: TSPL

People with terminal or life-shortening illnesses would be able to obtain help in ending their life if the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill became law.

Patients would be able to inform their GP of their wish to die and, after a series of checks, a licensed facilitator, or “friend at the end”, would be supplied with a prescription to enable assisted suicide to take place, if the legislation was approved.

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However, Holyrood’s health committee suggested that vulnerable patients could be at risk if the law was changed and that the “risk of coercion can never be eliminated completely”.

The SNP-dominated committee also warned of the dangers of “lethal doses of drugs being dispensed into the community in an uncontrolled manner”, in its report on the issue. There could also be a significant danger of “normalising suicide and seeming to endorse it”, the report. published yesterday, said.

MSPs praised the “good intentions” of Scottish Green MSP Patrick Harvie, who took over the bill following the death of independent MSP Margo MacDonald, whose previous attempt to legalise assisted suicide was defeated in the last parliament.

However, SNP MSP Bob Doris suggested significant changes would be needed to resolve such issues if the bill is to become law.

The findings will come as a blow to supporters of the bill, with the full parliament due to debate the issue later this month in what is expected to be a free vote for MSPs from all parties.

Holyrood’s health committee said that while the majority of its members did not support the general principles of the Assisted Suicide Bill, it would make no formal recommendation to parliament on the legislation as it was a matter of conscience.

“The committee believes the bill contains significant flaws. These present major challenges as to whether the bill can be progressed,” the report said.

MSPs have been hearing evidence from individuals and groups for and against the legislation as it makes its way through the Scottish Parliament. Mr Doris said: “The committee agreed that the bill will need significant amendment should it progress through the parliamentary scrutiny process.”

In response, Mr Harvie said the committee’s findings were “disappointing” but that he was optimistic that the bill could still be approved by the full parliament.

He said: “I am hopeful that MSPs will listen to all sides when the bill reaches the voting stage, and that they will act to end the unnecessary suffering of those who are seeking help to take control at the end of their lives.”

Campaigners on both sides of the argument welcomed the committee’s decision not to make a formal recommendation to the full parliament ahead of the vote later this month.

Sheila Duffy, from My Life, My Death, My Choice, said: “We are content that the committee has produced a report which seeks to inform the debate and makes no formal recommendation to the parliament on the vote, leaving the issue up to each MSP to decide for themselves.”

Dr Gordon Macdonald, of the opposition campaign Care Not Killing, said: “It is gratifying to note a majority of the committee is against the bill although they have not made a formal recommendation to the parliament to reject the bill.”