Problems already for the euthanasia bill

The Scottish Bill hits hurdles

After months of committee work and hearing of evidence, the bill on assisted dying from Independent MSP Margo Macdonald has hit troubles even as its committee puts it forward to parliament.

The Committee today recommended that Parliament should not adopt measures to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia for people in Scotland, countenancing instead the prospect that many will choose to go to Switzerland at great cost for help there.

Said the Committee’s Report, released this morning, “Overall, the majority of the Committee was not persuaded that the case had been made to decriminalise the law of homicide as it applies to assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, termed ‘end-of-life assistance’ in the Bill, and, accordingly, does not recommend the general principles of the Bill to the Parliament.”

Lothians SNP MSP and former Wester Hailes GP Ian McKee was the only member of the committee to back the bill. He said: “My experience is that there are some people who cannot be helped by the palliative care services. I felt in the case of someone who is in great misery and distress from their terminal illness, the autonomy of that person should be given greater priority than the needs of society.”

Ms MacDonald said: “They went into it with closed minds and their report betrays that.”

Exit gave evidence to the Committee on various technical aspects, but was not consulted on the Bill’s construction. The bill as proposed is a far cry from the type of permissive legislation Exit recommends.

Ms MacDonald said that the faith based opposition to her proposals had been “well-organised and well-funded” but she added: “Public opinion continues to support the general principles of the Bill. . . . MSPs have told me of constituents who have asked them to support the Bill so that it is not killed off before being further scrutinised and perhaps amended.” The news comes as a new poll shows most British people would allow euthanasia.

The Committee received 405 formal responses to the consultation. The bill now goes to Parliament for consideration (see previous blog post).

Update 2nd Dec:
MSPs threw out the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill after its first stage debate in the chamber on 1 December 2010.

The Scottish Parliament voted by 85 votes to 16 with two abstentions to reject the bill to legalise assisted suicide. After a debate at Holyrood and a rare free vote, Ms MacDonald did not win enough support to get the measures through. She has pledged to try to get the measures through again, if she is re-elected.

The bill was previously rejected by the committee set up to look at it, on the grounds it was not persuaded to decriminalise homicide as it applied to assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. That was a view echoed by members in the debate among them the Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon. Other concerns about the bill centred on issues such as how to define what constituted intolerable as an eligibility test for those seeking help to die and how to determine whether someone has not been subject to ‘undue influence’ when deciding to end their life.

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