A Bill that would legalise assisted suicide in Scotland has been presented to the Scottish Parliament today, but critics have warned that any change in the law will endanger lives.
Assisted suicide is currently illegal in Scotland and anyone involved in assisting suicide may be charged with culpable homicide.
The controversial End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, proposed by the independent Lothian MSP Margo MacDonald, would allow doctors to assist those who want to end their lives.
The Bill would require those seeking assisted suicide to be either terminally ill or “permanently physically incapacitated”.
Opponents say changing the law for a few determined individuals will only endanger many vulnerable people.
Dr Gordon MacDonald from the campaign group Care Not Killing called the proposals “highly dangerous” and urged the Scottish Parliament to proceed with “extreme care and caution”.
He said: “Euthanasia laws may meet the wishes of a small minority of strong-minded and highly-determined individuals, but they risk placing many more, less resolute people at risk either of malicious exploitation by others or of ending their lives against their own instincts in order to spare others a financial or emotional burden.”
And the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, a medical ethics charity, has warned that if the Bill became law it would mean that human lives “no longer have meaning, value or worth”.
Mrs MacDonald, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, has said that she would like to end her own life if her condition deteriorates.
Speaking at the launch of the Bill Mrs MacDonald said: “There are many other people that have progressive degenerative conditions that are much more vicious than mine.
“This bill is meant to redress that unfairness, to give those people the autonomy to exercise some control over how they die, to give them the legal right to seek assistance and to protect the people who would give them assistance.”
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has said that he is “not convinced” by Mrs MacDonald’s arguments.
Mr Salmond has pledged to give all Government ministers a free vote of conscience on the Bill.
Last year the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for England and Wales, Keir Starmer QC, issued draft guidelines explaining the circumstances under which he is likely to prosecute a case of assisted suicide.
However, Scotland’s top prosecutor, Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini QC, resisted calls from pro-euthanasia campaigners for her to follow the example of her counterpart in England and issue guidance on assisted suicide law.
The Director of Public Prosecutions’ final policy for England and Wales will be published in Spring 2010.