Groups Rally In Assisted Suicide Bid

27 May 2015, 06:00

Campaigners for and against proposed legislation to allow assisted suicide in Scotland will hold rallies outside Holyrood today ahead of a crucial vote on the issue.

MSPs are due to debate the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, which would allow those with terminal or life-shortening illnesses to obtain help to end their suffering.

It is being championed by Green MSP Patrick Harvie following the death of independent MSP Margo MacDonald in April last year.

Supporters will urge politicians to back the general principles of the legislation in the first vote on the Bill at the Scottish Parliament.

A rally has been organised by the My Life, My Death, My Choice campaign along with the Humanist Society of Scotland and the Friends At The End society.

Bob Scott, spokesman for My Life, My Death, My Choice, highlighted an opinion poll published at the weekend showing that almost three-quarters (73%) of adults support proposals to legalise assisted suicide in principle.

He said: "What we have been saying to MSPs is that the vote at stage one is only on the principles of the legislation, not the detail, and even polling by opponents to the Bill shows over two-thirds of Scots are in favour of some kind of legislation.

"Passing the Bill at stage one would allow amendments to be tabled and debated to see if they can deliver the safeguards and protections that all MSPs, as well as those of us in favour of the Bill, want to see.

"We hope that one of the things MSPs will take in to consideration is the views of the electorate, who are clearly in favour, and do not dismiss the Bill out of hand at such an early stage in the parliamentary process.''

A protest against the legislation has also been organised by Care Not Killing, the umbrella group spearheading opposition to the proposals.

The group's Dr Gordon Macdonald said: "We do not want the state-sanctioned killing of old, ill and disabled people of all impairment. We want support for people to live - not to die.

"The present law making assisted suicide illegal is clear and right, and does not need changing.

"The penalties it holds in reserve act as a strong deterrent to exploitation and abuse whilst giving prosecutorial discretion in hard cases.

"We call upon MSPs of all parties to vote against legal change which is unnecessary, unethical and uncontrollable.''

The Law Society of Scotland, Church of Scotland, Council of Imams Scotland and the Christian charity Care for Scotland have voiced concerns about the proposals in recent days.

Alison Britton, convener of the Law Society's health and medical law committee, said the Bill lacked clarity and would be difficult to enforce.

The Church of Scotland urged MSPs to improve end-of-life care instead of backing the proposals while the Council of Imams Scotland also called on members to vote against the legislation.

Stuart Weir, Care for Scotland's national director, said legalising assisted suicide would "put vulnerable people at risk''.

The parliament's Health Committee, which scrutinised the legislation, concluded last month that it was flawed but made no formal recommendation to Parliament as members said it was a matter of conscience.

Mr Harvie said: "Many of us will have personal experiences, either in our own lives or in our wider family which inform our position on this matter.

"I am sure that members will listen with an open mind to all perspectives on this question. Since taking the Bill on, I have certainly attempted to do so.

"Whatever views may exist about the detailed operation of legislation in this area, I would appeal to all those who support the basic argument, and to those who agree that a need exists to address the lack of clarity in the current law, to support the Bill at stage one and allow the debate to continue.''

The Bill is the second attempt to legislate for assisted suicide at Holyrood after previous proposals were rejected by MSPs in a free vote in 2010.