Allow 16-year-olds to request assisted suicide: Scottish bill

The MSP behind the bill has also suggested that doctors keep a record of “patients’ wishes” to use for justifying assisted suicide in case they later become incapacitated.
Mon Mar 25, 2013 - 5:21 pm EST

EDINBURGH, March 25, 2013 ( – Sixteen-year-olds could be allowed to make plans with a doctor to commit suicide under an assisted suicide bill to be introduced in Scotland this year.

The Member of the Scottish Parliament behind the bill said she intends to bring the bill forward in the summer, saying that she knows “a lot of people” who are “hoping to benefit” from it, estimating that about 50 people in Scotland would want to kill themselves each year if the law were changed. Her previous attempt to change the law failed in 2010 for lack of public support. 

Margo MacDonald MSP said, “I am much more confident. I think we can get it through. It is a better bill and opinion has moved on.”


MacDonald has also suggested that doctors keep a record of “patients’ wishes” to use for justifying assisted suicide in case they later become incapacitated. 

Speaking at a conference in Glasgow, MacDonald, a Parkinson’s sufferer, said, “A record would be kept in a GP’s file that you have expressed a desire to be able to have assistance to end your life when if you find yourself in the position of being terminal or suffering from a degenerative condition.” 

In a consultation document [pdf] on assisted suicide prepared for the Scottish Parliament in January 2012, MacDonald wrote that despite the defeat of her 2010 bill, there was “a consistent level of support for individuals suffering a terminal illness or condition for whom life becomes intolerable, to have the legal right to request help to end their life before nature decrees.”

She hopes that “facilitators” can be trained to become “friends at the end” to help patients commit suicide, including providing a lethal dose of prescription drugs. Her bill will remove any requirement that a physician be present at the time of the suicide itself. 

“Whilst any qualifying person may choose to have anyone informally present, the only person required by law to be in attendance will be a person designated under the new proposal as a facilitator,” the document said.

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The new bill would also remove “the requirement for a compulsory psychiatric assessment.” 

The only listed requirements to qualify for legal assisted suicide will be that the person is “capable,” meaning, “have the mental capacity to make an informed decision”; be registered with a medical practice in Scotland; be aged 16 or over; have either a terminal illness or “a terminal condition” and “find their life intolerable.” 

“In drawing up these criteria I have tried to strike a balance between providing appropriate safeguards and making access to assisted suicide as equitable as possible. I have tried to avoid being either too prescriptive or vague,” MacDonald wrote. 

In the consultation proposal, MacDonald insisted that her bill will not be about “voluntary euthanasia” but only consider assisted suicide. “Autonomy of choice is the central tenet of my proposal,” she wrote. 

“I believe that each of us has the same right to exercise choice and take responsibility for the manner of our death as we do with all other actions during our lifetime.” 

Her new bill, she said, will retain from the previous bill “the requirement for two separate examinations by a doctor, and the waiting time requirements between requests” but will streamline the legal process that she said in hindsight would have been “cumbersome.”

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