MSPs reject proposed assisted suicide law

MSPs reject proposed assisted suicide law

MSPs yesterday rejected the Assisted Suicide Scotland Bill by 82 to 36 votes after a debate in the Scottish Parliament.

Had it passed, the bill would have allowed the terminally ill to seek the help of a doctor in ending their life.

A committee at Holyrood said the bill was significantly flawed but left it to MSPs to decide whether to pass it or not.

Patrick Harvie MSP took up the bill on behalf of the late Margo MacDonald MSP, who died last April.

He said after the vote that he hoped the Scottish government would “recognise the strong demand for clarity in law”.

He added: “It’s clearly a disappointment that the bill will make no further progress.

“The significant support in the chamber reflects the clear public desire for people to have choice and for the law to be clarified.

“I know many supporters of assisted suicide will now be hoping that the Lord Advocate issues prosecution guidance and that the Scottish government considers alternative approaches to the problem.”

The health secretary, Shona Robison, previously told MSPs: “The government believes that the current law is clear, and it is not lawful to assist someone to commit suicide, and the government has no plans to change that.”

The Law Society of Scotland had also expressed reservations about the bill.

Before its stage one debate, Alison Britton, convener of the Law Society’s Health and Medical Law Committee said: “We remain concerned over the lack of definition of the key terms, such as ‘assistance’ and ‘life-shortening’ and the functions of the licensed facilitator are still uncertain.

“Lack of such clarity leads to ambiguity and leaves the legislation open to interpretation.”

The Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland QC, clarified the Crown’s position on assisted suicide last month is response to a letter from academics claiming a “shameful lack of clarity” over the law.

Mr Mulholland said the position is perfectly clear in Scots law.

Professor James Chalmers of Glasgow University had said causation was unclear in Scots law and that, as such, identifying who caused a death in a case of assisted suicide, where, for example, a person supplied a pill and the other swallowed it, was not a straightforward matter.

In response, Mr Mullholland wrote: “In order for there to be a sufficient causal connection for homicide the conduct must be a significant contributory factor to the death.

“A minimal or negligible contribution would not suffice.

“This clear test, which has persisted for many years, will be applied to the facts and circumstances of each case.”

Mr Mulholland added that a prosecution would be in the public interest where there was enough credible and reliable evidence and noted that the seriousness of homicide means “it is difficult to conceive of a case where it would not be in the public interest to take proceedings”.

He added: “But each case would be considered on its own facts and circumstances.”

Share icon
Share this article: