Opposition grows to MSP’s end-of-life Bill

Opposition to a Bill that would legalise assisted suicide in Scotland is growing as doctors and most MSPs voice their disapproval.

The End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, proposed by Margo MacDonald MSP, would allow the terminally ill and people who are “permanently physically incapacitated” to seek assistance in ending their lives.

However, the Bill has already met with opposition from a variety of sources.

The British Medical Association, the Roman Catholic church, pro-life groups, and most MSPs are opposed to the Bill.

Dr Brian Keighley, Chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: “If doctors are authorised, by law, to kill or help kill they are taking on an additional role which we believe is alien to the one of care giver and healer.

“The traditional doctor-patient relationship is founded on trust and this risks being impaired if the doctor’s role encompasses any form of intentional killing.”

His concerns were echoed by the Roman Catholic Church which has vowed to challenge any attempt to legalise assisted suicide in the courts.

A spokesman for the Roman Catholic church said that the legislation “would cross a moral boundary that no society should ever breach”.

He added: “It would completely invert and threaten the relationship between patient and doctor and undermine the role of medicine in society.”

And Dr Peter Saunders, Director of the anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing, warned that the Bill would have a devastating effect on both the terminally ill and disabled people.

Dr Saunders said: “The catchment area for Ms MacDonald’s bill is very wide, comprising as it does anyone who is not just terminally ill, but ‘permanently physically incapacitated to such an extent as not to be able to live independently’.”

“What sort of message does this send to disabled people and to others dependent on friends or relatives? It says: ‘If you cannot live without help, you are a candidate for having your life ended.’ Ms MacDonald may be well-intentioned, but this bill is simply too dangerous.”

A BBC Scotland survey has revealed that most MSPs are opposed to the Bill’s plans to allow terminally ill people to seek assistance in ending their lives.

The survey, which covered two thirds of MSPs, revealed that 53 MSPs were against the Bill, 17 were in favour of it while 20 were still undecided.

But Mrs MacDonald, who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, remains optimistic that the Bill will be passed.

She said: “That looks as though there are 17 people out of the 90 who are absolutely convinced of the case already, which is further on than I thought it would be.”

Assisted suicide is currently illegal in Scotland and anyone involved in assisting suicide may be charged with culpable homicide.

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 DPP’s final policy for England and Wales will be published in Spring 2010.