Fresh bid to legalise assisted suicide for the dying in Scotland

Margo MacDonald led previous bids to change the law. Picture: Esme Allen
Margo MacDonald led previous bids to change the law. Picture: Esme Allen
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A fresh bid to introduce assisted suicide in Scotland is under way, with one MSP backing the prospect of “cross party” legislation to give dying Scots the right to end their lives.

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said there is now a “more progressive” outlook among MSPs that is more in touch with public opinion. The proposal was originally brought forward by the late Independent MSP Margo MacDonald, but was twice rejected by the Scottish Parliament.

Campaigners yesterday urged MSPs to establish a new Scottish Parliament inquiry into the issue. Holyrood’s human rights committee heard stark warnings that terminally ill Scots endure “endless pain and suffering” in their final days, with many driven to suicide to end their ordeal.

Mr Cole-Hamilton believes the ­current crop of MSPs, elected since the last Holyrood vote on assisted suicide three years ago, would be more receptive to the change.

He said: “I would very much like to see a refreshed inquiry with a view to bringing forward cross-party sponsored legislation.

“As a parliament we are on the wrong side of history and of public opinion on this. We’ve done quite a lot of work to gauge the opinion of the new cadre of MSPs and I do think there is a more progressive attitude held by not necessarily more than half, but pretty close to half of the MSPs.

“But what’s interesting is that those people who have previously voted against assisted dying are increasingly having conversations where they’re indicating that they may be on a journey, and perhaps even willing to change their position.”

Ally Thomson, director of campaign group Dignity in Dying, said public support for assisted suicide is rising after recent polling showed three-quarters of those surveyed backed change. She said: “This parliament can take action, it’s empowered to take action and we believe very strongly that it should.”

The Australian state of Victoria has recently introduced a “safeguarded bill”, Ms Thomson said, which empowers dying people at the end of their life, while providing protection for vulnerable groups in society.

There have been concerns that legalising suicide may prompt people to take their own lives during bouts of depression or if older people feel they have become a burden on their family.

Ms Thomson added: “I would support a wider inquiry into full end of life rights, including the right to palliative care and treatment.”

Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie, who brought forward the legislation unsuccessfully three years ago following Ms MacDonald’s death, said the “balance is slowly changing”.

But the Catholic Church and disability campaigners both voiced concerns over the prospect of assisted dying proposals making a return.

Bill Scott, of Inclusion Scotland, the national disabled people’s organisation, told MSPs that previous assisted dying bills at Holyrood would have included disabled people with non-terminal conditions and those living in pain. He said: “I would much rather this parliament talk about how we uphold the right to life.”

Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, cited reports of people being “euthanised” for addiction to alcohol, as well as concerns of people being a burden on their family or even coercion.

A poll conducted earlier this year found that 74 per cent of Scots agreed that they would support a change to the law, up from 69 per cent in 2014.