'Momentum' For Assisted Suicide Law

17 February 2015, 08:34 | Updated: 17 February 2015, 08:36

Momentum exists for a change in the law to legalise assisted suicide, according to the politician championing the controversial proposals.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie will today set out his case for the Assisted Suicide Bill at the Scottish Parliament as campaigners on both sides make their final arguments.

Holyrood's Health and Sport Committee has been taking evidence from individuals and groups for and against the legislation, which would allow those with terminal or life-shortening illnesses to obtain help in ending their suffering.

Mr Harvie will tell MSPs there is a compelling case for a change in the law when he responds to the evidence they have heard at the final session.

His appearance comes as a new poll published by campaign group My Life, My Death, My Choice found that 28% of people would be more likely to vote for their MSP if they back the Bill, with 8% less likely.

Supporters of the legislation will hold a rally outside the Scottish Parliament before Mr Harvie's appearance, but the Christian charity CARE for Scotland called on him to withdraw the "poorly written, badly constructed'' Bill.

Speaking before the committee meeting, Mr Harvie said: "There is serious legal concern over the lack of clarity in the current law.

"People in Scotland have no way of knowing what actions might be legal or illegal if they respond to a request from a loved one for compassionate assistance to end their life.

"This Bill is a response to that lack of clarity, and those who support it recognise that we all have a right to make decisions about our own lives on our own terms.

"The public in Scotland are ahead of politicians on this issue, and it's clear that there is momentum for a change in the law. It remains to be seen whether this Bill can gain the support of a majority, but if it does I am entirely willing to look at amendments to strengthen it.''

Bob Scott, spokesman for My Life, My Death, My Choice, said the poll demonstrated "incredible public support'' for the legislation.

He said: "The Scottish electorate are clearly willing to back this Bill with their voices as well as their actions at the ballot box.

"Whilst votes should not be cast purely for political reasons, by voting in favour of the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, MSPs will be reflecting the views of their constituents and know they can support this legislation without fear of a political backlash.''

Dr Gordon Macdonald, CARE for Scotland's parliamentary officer, said: "What we've witnessed over the last few weeks is repeated and sustained criticism of this Bill from a whole variety of sources and for a range of reasons because it is so badly drafted.

"We're not talking about one or two voices, we're talking about leading experts in medicine and palliative care, top lawyers and experienced ethicists all expressing serious and genuine concerns.

"The fact of the matter is that this is a poorly written, badly constructed Bill and the sheer numbers of people who have criticised whole parts of it, quite aside from any moral or ethical objections, only highlight the problems with the legislation.''

Mr Harvie has championed the Bill since the death of independent MSP Margo MacDonald.

He said: "I gave a commitment to Margo MacDonald, who introduced the Bill, that I would present it to Parliament as best I could.

"It's a source of lasting regret that she didn't have the chance to steer this legislation through herself, but I am sure that MSPs from across the chamber will remember her commitment to this issue and will give the debate serious thought before we reach the Stage 1 vote.''

It is the second attempt to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland after previous proposals were rejected by MSPs in 2010.