The BBC reported yesterday (December 1, 2010) that the Scottish Parliament has rejected plans to give terminally ill people the right to choose when to die, despite claims they were widely backed.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald’s End of Life Assistance Bill aimed to make it legal for someone to seek help to end their life.

Ms MacDonald, who has Parkinson’s disease, claimed there was wide public support for the legislation.

But the bill was defeated by 85 votes to 16 with two abstentions.

MSPs were allowed a rare free vote on the bill, rather than on party lines, and it was supported by a number of members from across the Holyrood parties.

Some critics have claimed it could have led to Scotland becoming a “suicide tourism” destination, along with other countries where the practice is legal, such as Switzerland.

There have also been concerns it could fail to safeguard frail, elderly people.

In England, the director of public prosecutions previously indicated it was unlikely that legal action would be taken against those who assist the suicide of friends or relatives who have a settled and informed wish to die.

However, no such guidance has been given in Scotland.

MSPs are also currently considering a separate bill to strengthen palliative care for the terminally ill, although Holyrood’s health committee has questioned the need for legislation to improve services.

The rejection of the bill came after Lord Falconer launched an inquiry into assisted dying in the UK, insisting it would be “an objective, dispassionate and authoritative analysis of the issues”.