Click on any of the three themes listed below to be taken to the appropriate section.
In February 2003, following a proposal by Lord Joffe to introduce a Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill, a special commission was authorised by the House of Lords to study the issues surrounding assisted dying, its social repercussions and the public’s awareness of relevant information.
The commission published its report in 2005 and concluded that if an assisted dying bill is considered, it should distinguish clearly between assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia.
Consequently, Lord Joffe re-introduced a new version of his Bill entitled ‘Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill’ into the House of Lords on the 9th of November 2005.
This revised form of the Bill sought to legalise assisted suicide but not euthanasia.
The Bill was defeated on its second reading in the House of Lords on 12th May 2006 by a margin of 148 votes to 100.
The question of whether or not assisted suicide should be permitted has come to the fore again recently through the Coroners and Justice Bill.
Proposed by the Government, this Bill aimed to clarify and tighten the current law against assisted suicide. However attempts were made to try and use this opportunity to weaken the law on assisted suicide.
Using Ms Purdy’s case [LINK: To the page on CARE website – “What about the case of Debbie Purdy?”] as justification, proponents built upon the momentum surrounding the case to call for new legislation in favour of assisted suicide.
One key issue which has been the particular focus of campaigners is the creation of a special exemption from the law to allow people to help others, such as relatives, to travel abroad to be killed in countries where assisted suicide is legal.
In many respects, those who do not support such an exemption base their decision on the basis that the present laws against euthanasia and assisting suicide already afford full legal protection to vulnerable people. Creating the kind of exemption being called for has the serious potential of making vulnerable people feel that they have a duty to die.
Perhaps the most interesting and alarmingly fact surrounding the pro-suicide proposals put before Parliament concerns the lack of ethical standards to help guide, implement and enforce any proposed processes for the legislation of assisted suicide.
When voting took place, the pro-assisted suicide amendments were voted against and did not become part of the final bill which is now an Act of Parliament (law).
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are devolved matters for the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 1998, Schedule 5 (Reserved Matters), Part II (Specific Reservations), Head J (Health and Medicines).
On the 11th November 2004, the Deputy Minister for Health and Community indicated that the Scottish government had “no plans to change the law”.
In January 2010, MSP Margo MacDonald launched a bid to legalise assisted suicide in the Scottish Parliament.
MacDonald’s End of Life Assistance Bill would make Scotland the first part of the UK to change the law if it wins the support of MSPs.
Under the proposals, anyone aged over 16 would be permitted to request help to die as long as they have been diagnosed as terminally ill or permanently physically incapacitated and find life intolerable. Click here to view the Bill.
In early February 2010, the Scottish Parliament decided to take the unusual and controversial decision of insisting that the Bill be sent to a one-off committee.
Subsequently, in March 2010 the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill Committee launched a call for written evidence from all interested parties on the general principles of the Bill.
MSPs and Scottish Government ministers were allowed a free vote on the Bill, with the result being the overwhelming defeat of the Bill by 85 votes to 16 with 2 abstentions.
Though the defeat was crushing, following her re-election to the Scottish Parliament this year, Margo MacDonald has committed to reintroducing proposals for a law to allow ‘assisted dying’ (assisted suicide/euthanasia).