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by Tom Freeman
13 January 2015
Define ‘assistance’ in assisted suicide, MSPs told

Define ‘assistance’ in assisted suicide, MSPs told

A law allowing terminally ill people to get help to commit suicide needs more clarity to protect those left behind, legal experts have told MSPs.

A clear definition of assistance would be needed to prevent criminal charges against those who have provided it, members of Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee were told today.

The Assisted Suicide Bill, which was launched by the late independent MSP Margo Macdonald, would give people with terminal illness or a degenerative condition the right to seek the help of a doctor or someone close to them to help end their life, alongside a ‘facilitator’, who has no relationship with the patient.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie now leads the controversial bill, which the Scottish Government formally opposes as it starts its journey through parliament.

Procurator Fiscal Stephen McGowan said: "The line between assisting someone and taking the act out of that persons hands is a fine one. The key part of this is, there is no definition of what assistance actually is and what it is to assist someone in suicide."

Consent is currently not a defence in homicide cases, the committee was told.

Harvie has argued assisted suicide should be looked at as a process rather than an isolated act, but Professor Alison Britton of the Law Society of Scotland today said it would be too difficult under Scots Law.

“The nature of our criminal law relies so heavily on causation that’s what will be the focus- the action, the [criminal intent], the intention and then whether or not there’s a public interest in any prosecution going forward- so it’s very difficult to take this as an entire process. We have to focus on what the assistance actually is, because that would be the person who would take the ultimate responsibility,” she said.

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