BMJ 2015;350:h2928 doi: 10.1136/bmj.h2928 (Published 28 May 2015)
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NEWS Scottish parliament rejects “right to die” for terminally ill people Bryan Christie Edinburgh
Campaigners fighting to legalise assisted suicide have vowed to fight on after the Scottish parliament voted against allowing people with terminal and life shortening conditions to seek medical help to die. A bill on legalising assisted suicide was defeated by 82 votes to 36 after being criticised for lacking clarity, increasing the risk of coercion for vulnerable people, and potentially making suicide more acceptable in society. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) who supported the bill argued that the proposed legislation could be improved and that it was wrong to deny people the right to choose the way they end their own life.
It is the second time in five years that the parliament has rejected such legislation, which polls show is backed by around two thirds of people in Scotland. But supporters of change were encouraged that more than twice as many MSPs voted in favour of legislation as in 2010.
In a debate that lasted over three hours a number of MSPs expressed disquiet at the status quo, saying that it leaves people who want to end their life with no support or dignity and that anyone providing assistance risks prosecution. Around 50 people a year with a terminal illness are thought to die by suicide in Scotland.
Patrick Harvie, the Green MSP who proposed the bill, said he hoped that clear prosecution guidance would now be issued in Scotland. “Clearly the detail of this bill wasn’t good enough to convince parliament, but I think it’s awoken more people to the problems of the current law. The significant support in the
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chamber reflects the clear public desire for people to have choice and for the law to be clarified.” The bill proposed that adult patients who are mentally competent, have a terminal or life shortening disease, and are assessed by at least two separate doctors on two occasions can be allowed to end their life. The method of death was kept deliberately vague but would be applied by a “licensed facilitator.”
The bill was opposed by disability rights groups and religious organisations but won the support of some prominent figures including AC Grayling, a philosopher; Harold Kroto, a Nobel prize winner; Polly Toynbee, a journalist; Graeme Catto, former president of the General Medical Council; and Jonathan Miller, the writer, director, and former doctor, who all wrote to parliament backing the bill. It was opposed by the BMA, which has a standing policy opposing all forms of assisted dying. The campaign group My Life, My Death, My Choice, which supported the bill, said that it would continue to lobby for change. “Although disappointed with the result, we are emboldened by the increasing support for our cause both amongst MSPs and the wider public,” said a spokesman.
The UK alliance Care Not Killing, which opposes assisted dying, described the result as a major victory for vulnerable people in society who are most in need of protection. Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2928 © BMJ Publishing Group Ltd 2015