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Ethics briefings
  1. Sophie Brannan,
  2. Ruth Campbell,
  3. Martin Davies,
  4. Veronica English,
  5. Rebecca Mussell,
  6. Julian C Sheather
  1. Department of Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Martin Davies, Department of Medical Ethics, British Medical Association, London WC1H 9JP, UK; mdavies{at}

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Assisted dying


On 30 April 2015, the Health and Sport Committee published its stage-one report on the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, in which it analysed the evidence received on a range of issues, including international evidence on assisted dying, the assessment of mental capacity, the detection of coercion, the role of healthcare professionals in assisted-dying processes and the creation of a conscientious objection clause.1 The Committee noted the good intentions with which the Bill had been drafted, and recognised the strength of feeling on the issue on both sides.

The Committee concluded that the Bill, as currently drafted, contained significant flaws, which presented a serious challenge as to whether it could progress. These included concerns about key terms not defined in the Bill, the ability to detect coercion, protection of healthcare professionals’ conscience, the lack of clarity around the role of the licensed facilitator and the compatibility of the Bill with current suicide-prevention policies. While the majority of the Committee did not support the general principles of the Bill, in light of the fact that the issue of assisted suicide is a matter of conscience, the Committee chose to make no formal recommendation to Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament debated the Bill on 27 May, where it was rejected. MSPs were given a free vote on the Bill, although the Scottish Government did not support a change in the law. MSPs voted against the Bill, 82 votes to 36, and the Bill will not progress any further in this session.2

At the same time, the Scottish Court of Session was considering the case of a 66-year-old man who suffers from a number of medical conditions, including Parkinson's disease, and is confined to a wheelchair.3 He is seeking a declaration that the Lord Advocate must issue guidelines to clarify the circumstances …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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