More that three quarters of Scots support some sort of legislation to help terminally ill people who wish to shorten their lives, according to polls taken for both The Sunday Times and STV last year. But today's Politics Show in Scotland survey of MSPs suggested that 53 of the 90 MSPs who responded would oppose Margo MacDonald's Ended of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, which she presented to the Scottish Parliament last week. Why the discrepancy?
Two years ago, when Margo first contributed to the debate, I doubted we could draft a law that would give freedom of choice to the small number of people who wished an assisted death - without damaging palliative care or putting the vulnerable at risk. Having read the bill and its explanatory notes, I have changed my mind. You can read why in my column in today's Sunday Times Scotland.
My concerns about assisted death were always practical ones - nothing to do with spiritual beliefs. Many of the organised groups campaigning against it are religiously motivated. I was brought up a Catholic and it was drummed into us at school and church that only God had the authority to give and take life. But believers have no automatic right to impose this view on others.
Lallands Peat Worrier has lots to say on this subject - particularly the threat by Care not Killing to challenge any law under the European Human Rights Act. The Politics Show survey suggests that Margo's bill will never get on to the statute books. Writing in The Times this week, Magnus Linklater said too many MSPs fear offending their Catholic, and to a lesser extend, Presbyterian constituents. I am less convinced. Most modern Catholics take a pragmatic approach to their church's teaching. They agree with its tough line on abortion while they turn a blind eye to the bar on contraception. I suspect that assisted death provided for the terminally ill who request it is something many voters, Catholic or otherwise, would view as merciful. Permanently disabled people being allowed to request assisted death has more problematic implications. How do you decide what is intolerable? But Margo MacDonald has said that the bill should now be debated and there is plenty of opportunity to amend it.
I would recommend everyone read the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill and the very useful explanatory notes which accompany it here. MSPs would do well to pay it close scrutiny too, given that most of their constituents actually support its principles. If I can change my mind so can they.