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Melksham widow supports Scottish moves to legalise assisted suicide
Proposals to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland could push other parts of the UK to follow suit, according to the widow of Melksham right-to-die campaigner Tony Nicklinson.
Jane Nicklinson appeared at a conference in Edinburgh to help publicise a fresh attempt to legislate at the Scottish Parliament.
"People that are in support of changing the law in England might see that if this can happen in Scotland, why can't it happen here too? It can only be a good thing," she said.
She was among a panel of contributors including Ludwig Manelli, founder of Swiss assisted dying organisation Dignitas, as well as Dutch supporters, medical and religious representatives.
Mr Nicklinson died in August days after he lost his High Court battle in England for the right to end his life. The 47-year-old, who refused food in the days following the landmark case, was paralysed by a stroke in 2005.
The attempt to change the law in Scotland is being made by Margo McDonald, an Independent MSP at Holyrood whose first attempt failed in a free vote in 2010.
She hopes to persuade the re-elected SNP Scottish Government and previous opponents to change their minds and get behind revised legislation, due to be formally lodged next spring.
Mrs Nicklinson, 57, said her campaign was hard.
"The day we went to the court, it was the day Canada legalised it and we hoped that might have some affect on our case, which plainly it didn't,"
she said after a brief press conference in Edinburgh.
"The more countries do legalise it, in time England will have to follow on. You can feel very alone. For a long time we did because no one was willingly supporting us."
Ms MacDonald, who has Parkinson's disease, said she had been "too nice"
in the first attempt to steer a Bill through Parliament.
"It was too close to an election and we were too nice in the way we conducted the campaign," she said.
"We didn't want it to become a rough-and-tumble political campaign. This time it's going to be different."
Her second Bill has been consulted on, with responses showing a split of opinion.
Interpretation of "substantive" responses indicated 59 per cent support for her plan. Overall responses, which include a letter-writing campaign opposing the plan, show support at just 33 per cent.
Ms MacDonald, an MSP for the Lothians region which covers Edinburgh, said she is confident the Scottish Parliament will change its mind.
"I think this Bill might go through, and if it does go through it has to be very good quality legislation, which is so important," she said.
The draft Bill is expected to be lodged in spring next year.
Mr Minelli told the conference that Scottish people should not have to travel to Switzerland to end their life. He estimated that about 289,000 people attempt to take their lives in the UK each year.
Although the Swiss clinic helps people to die, he said many more people choose a way that helps them to live.
In a speech published before the conference, he offered support to Ms MacDonald.
Referring to a debate on the issue in the House of Lords, he asked: "Why do so many people, serving nations in a parliament, pretend that they are defending the right to life by opposing such proposals?
"They do this despite the fact that they know exactly how their own behaviour in this field is responsible for a multitude of failed suicide attempts.
"Through their ambition to uphold the taboo surrounding suicide, they close the door through which suicidal people could look for help in their life crisis."
Reverend Scott McKenna, a Church of Scotland minister in Edinburgh, said many parishioners are sympathetic.
"Almost everyone who speaks on this issue speaks from personal experience," he said.
Despite that, he said many in the clergy are opposed to assisted suicide.
In a statement, he said: "With Margo's new proposal, I hope members of the Scottish Parliament will overcome the fear of death in our culture and empower individuals to make their own choice about how and when they die should their lives become intolerable.
"I hope that compassion will triumph over religious dogma and the decision to die be seen not as suicide or life-defeating but as life-enhancing and an act of immense faith."
Sir Graeme Catto, chair of Dignity in Dying and emeritus professor of medicine at Aberdeen University, said he thinks support among doctors is higher than it appears.
About 38 per cent say they are willing, he said.
"You have to remember that at the present time this is illegal," he said.
"This may be a deterrent to stand up and say, 'I am in favour of this', when it's actually against the law.
"I think it's a little bit like the church. I suspect many doctors are in favour of this, particularly those who look after patients at the end of their lives."
Ms MacDonald's original attempt to change the law resulted in a free vote, with no party political obligation, among all MSPs at Holyrood, including government ministers. It was defeated 16-85 in December 2010.
The End of Life Assistance Bill was considered by a specially convened committee which did not support the general principles.
Under the MSP's revised plan, Scotland would change the law which leaves people open to prosecution for culpable homicide.
Assisted suicide remains a criminal offence in England and Wales, punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Among Ms MacDonald's new proposals is a suggestion that a trained, "licensed facilitator", a so-called "friend at the end", would have to be present when someone is at the point of ending their own life.
Such a measure is primarily aimed at making sure any fatal medication is taken correctly. A facilitator could be a doctor, social worker or close friend but not a relative or anyone who stands to gain from the death.
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