Suicide law 'may mean 1,000 deaths a year'

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THE MSP behind plans to legalise assisted suicide has faced claims that it could result in up to 1,000 deaths a year.

Independent Margo MacDonald said there had been an "organised campaign" against her bill as she gave evidence to a Holyrood committee set up to scrutinise the plans.

But MSPs also heard that even if the bill was passed, assisted suicide could not be carried out on the NHS under current legislation.

Ms MacDonald, who has Parkinson's disease, wants to make Scotland the first part of Britain to change the law which leaves Scots open to prosecution for culpable homicide for helping another person to die.

She has predicted that about 55 people a year would make use of her proposed legislation to end their lives in Scotland, based on the experience of the US state of Oregon.

But Nationalist committee member Michael Matheson told her: "Your legislation is much closer in parallel to Dutch legislation.

"And using the very same methodology that you've used to calculate the figures, the number of people who may exercise their rights under this legislation, if enacted, is closer to 1,000 rather than 55.

"That's significantly different."

This was rejected by Ms MacDonald, who pointed to recent improvements in palliative care, which helps ease the suffering of people who are terminally ill.

"I don't think you can make that leap of judgment or estimate, if you like," she said.

As well as assisted suicide - where doctors provide patients with drugs they can take to end their lives - Ms MacDonald's bill would effectively legalise euthanasia, allowing doctors to administer the drugs themselves where a terminally ill patient is incapable.

However, she played down committee concerns yesterday over the "burden" this would place on GPs.

"I believe that there is no difference between sitting beside someone as they self-inject or ingest, and pressing the plunger," she said.

"I think there's no difference, because you will have assisted them to bring their life to an end."

No doctor would have to take part in assisted suicide under the bill's terms if it was against their "conscience or moral belief", she added.

Labour's Helen Eadie said that health secretary Nicola Sturgeon had written to the committee to say assisted suicide was outwith the terms of the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978.

This meant that GPs and health professionals in Scotland could not provide assistance to patients who wanted to end their lives.

Ms MacDonald said it was "fairly common" for new legislation to make part of existing laws redundant, and that she planned to bring forward an amendment at stage two to the 1978 act to ensure her bill would apply to the NHS.Labour's Cathy Peattie raised concerns that providing state help might encourage people to kill themselves if they felt they were a burden to their family or met with possible coercion from family members.

But this was dismissed as "groundless" by Ms MacDonald.

She added: "The legislation will not change people's morality - it will not change loving families into rapacious families."

The controversial bill has split opinion and a campaign entitled Care Not Killing was launched opposing it.

Ms MacDonald told the committee: "There was an organised lobby against the bill.

"People are perfectly entitled to do that and I'm not complaining about it."

However, she said polling evidence indicated that opponents of the bill were in a minority.