Controversial proposals to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland have been rejected at Holyrood for the second time in five years.
MSPs spent three hours debating the emotive issue yesterday before defeating the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill by 82 votes to 36.
Originally introduced by the late MSP Margo MacDonald, the proposed legislation wanted to give people with terminal or life-shortening illnesses the choice to obtain help to end their suffering.
A total of nine parliamentarians from the north and north-east – five of whom were elected in 2011 – voted in favour of the bill, which was steered through parliament by Green MSP Patrick Harvie.
The only supporters of the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, which was defeated at the same stage of the parliamentary process in 2010, were Richard Lochhead (Moray) and Liam McArthur (Orkney).
None of Scotland’s main party leaders voted in favour of the legislation and the Scottish Government has repeatedly said it had no plans to change the law.
Speaking after the vote, Mr Harvie admitted he would have been “really quite stunned” if the Bill had passed.
“Obviously members were not convinced of the detail of this particular bill but the argument for some change in the law will continue,” he added.
“In this country we have high quality palliative care but it is increasingly clear that for some people that is just not good enough.”
Mr Harvie said he imagined Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland would probably come “under greater pressure” to follow in the footsteps of England and Wales and produce prosecution guidelines on the issue.
The My Life, My Death, My Choice group, which campaigned in favour of the Bill, said it was “naturally disappointed” by the result but pointed out the number of MSPs in favour had more than doubled since the last vote.
A spokesman said: “This shows that politicians are increasingly ill at ease with the current law surrounding assisted suicide and are beginning to catch up with the views of their constituents.
“We will keep fighting to convince MSPs to find a way to deliver this change quickly and in a responsible manner which protects vulnerable groups, representing the clear desire of the Scottish people.
“Although disappointed with the result, we are emboldened by the increasing support for our cause both amongst MSPs and the wider public.”
The result was welcomed by religious groups and north-east MSP Alex Johnstone said it was a “vote of confidence” in the medical profession.
Free Church of Scotland moderator the Rev David Robertson said: “This is the second time in five years that the Scottish Parliament has given a clear ‘no’ to assisted suicide, and it is time for proponents to give it a rest.
“Assisted suicide lobby groups were asking for no small change from our MSPs, they wanted to legalise the intentional act of bringing about a human death.
“We are sorry that those pushing this cause cannot see the greater good at stake, and we hope they will be willing to work with those seeking to establish first-class palliative care for everyone across Scotland.”
Speaking during the debate, north-east Conservative MSP Nanette Milne, a former GP, said: “Personally, as a former health professional, the idea of actively and deliberately hastening death by assisting someone to die is deeply disturbing.
“I share the view of many professional colleagues that legislating for that would risk undermining patient trust in doctors and medical advice, and I cannot come to terms with what is proposed.
“There have been significant improvements in palliative care in recent years, and in my view that is the way forward.
“To enable the vast majority of patients to experience a dignified and comfortable death in the place of their choice when that inevitability arrives.”
Health Secretary Shona Robison said she did not support the proposals and providing high quality palliative care was her preference.
“The government believes that the current law is clear, and that it is not lawful to assist someone in committing suicide,” she added.
“The government has no plans to change that.
“Many of us lose a loved one to a terminal or incurable illness, whether it is a member of our family, a friend or a much-loved colleague.
“Coming to terms with death and the process of dying involves a complex set of reactions that can involve intense levels of distress and fear of loss of control, functioning and, of course, dignity.
“It is very important that we work to address those fears and ensure that everyone receives the best palliative and end-of-life care available and that dignity is preserved through personalised and compassionate care.”
Highland MSP Mike MacKenzie said he hoped that the proposals would be supported in order to advance further scrutiny.
“My principal argument is that we owe it to all the people who have written to us, including those who are concerned about the issue and those who may fall under the scope of the legislation,” he added.
“We owe it to everyone to scrutinise and debate the issue properly and in order to do that, we need to take the bill all the way through the parliamentary process.
“Palliative care is not always effective and it is not nearly as widely available as it ought to be.
“Suffering can only be understood and defined by those who are suffering, not by those who are not.
“We pass many bills in this chamber that are subject to considerable amendment and I am sure that this bill can be amended in ways that will deal with most, if not all, of the concerns.”
Orkney Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur acknowledged that the proposals were “complex, sensitive and profoundly emotive”.
“I am supportive of the general principles of the Bill,” he added.
“Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the status quo is no longer tenable, that change is necessary and that finding ways of allowing individuals dignity in death, as in life, is now essential.
“Growing numbers of people in Scotland have reached that conclusion, often, I suspect, based on their direct experience of what has happened to a family member or good friend.”