Children would be allowed help to end their lives if they want to under controversial new proposals from MSP Margo MacDonald.
Launching a consultation on her draft assisted suicide Bill, the Lothian MSP said she wanted a law that would allow Scottish children to choose suicide, just as they are allowed to “choose a life” now by deciding who to live with if their parents divorce.
In the consultation document, Mrs MacDonald puts forward the recent case of Hannah Jones, a 13-year-old girl who decided not to have a risky heart transplant that had only a slim chance of prolonging her life.
But Hannah was not choosing to end her own life. The issue in her case was whether or not she was old enough to say no to treatment which could have done more harm than good.
In its current form, Mrs MacDonald’s Bill would put the age limit for choosing assisted suicide at twelve, but younger children could request assisted suicide if they were deemed sufficiently mature.
Mrs MacDonald lodged her draft Bill in the Scottish Parliament on 8 December. The consultation runs until 9 March, after which she may lodge a final proposal. This would need the support of 18 MSPs within a month in order for the Bill to be given parliamentary time.
Mrs MacDonald, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, wants to be able to end her life if her condition deteriorates.
If made law, her End of Life Choices (Scotland) Bill would allow Scottish patients the ‘right’ to have help from doctors to end their lives if they choose to.
Although Mrs MacDonald argues that the proposal would include safeguards, there are concerns that legalising the practice would endanger the lives of vulnerable individuals.
Writing recently in response to calls for legal assisted suicide south of the border, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC said: “Laws aren’t like precision-guided missiles. Once a statute, they can quickly be used to encourage acts they were designed to enable and control.
“It’s easy enough to draft safeguards in the comfort of Westminster, but laws have to be real-world-proofed.”
Mrs MacDonald is hoping her consultation will result in more support for her proposal, but doctors are opposed and it lacks Government backing.
Scottish health minister Nicola Sturgeon has also said that she is not “persuaded” that the law should be changed.
Dr George Fernie of the BMA said: “I’m absolutely in favour of the consultation but the BMA would be very disappointed if we ended up with having legalised, physician-assisted suicide in Scotland.”
He added: “People when they have a debilitating illness that may end their life are extremely vulnerable, they’re at a fragile stage.
“And our worry is they’re going to contemplate ending their life when that really isn’t their wish.”
Last week a leading palliative care specialist, Dr David Jeffrey, said that suicidal wishes are often driven by treatable depression or a need for control and autonomy, rather than pain.
He said: “The question here is not one of the patient’s right to commit suicide, but whether this small group of people who have an exaggerated need for control have any right to demand the involvement of doctors, nurses and pharmacists in their suicide.”