AN ETHICS campaigner who was pivotal in persuading the Catalan parliament to pursue an assisted dying law said her Scottish counterparts are wrong to focus on the dangers such a law would pose to the elderly and disabled.

Nuria Terribas, head of the Borja Institute of Bioethics and executive director of the Barcelona-based bioethics thinktank, Fundació Víctor Grifols i Lucas, rubbished claims that legalising assisted dying would trigger a "slippery slope" of sick, elderly and handicapped patients being pressured to end their lives.

She said the right to self-determine our own deaths when faced with terminal illness or unbearable suffering was the number reason to regulate in favour of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

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Read more: MS patient 'too sick' for Switzerland suicide bid

Ms Terribas is in Glasgow today to take part in a debate organised by Scottish right-to-die campaigners, Friends at the End (FATE), which will see her pitted against Dermot Grenham, who is representing the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics.

Ms Terribas said: "The most important point for bioethics in support of euthanasia is the autonomy of the individual. When a person is suffering and asks to die, the response from the community - the doctors, the professionals, the politicians - must be to respect this position. Why? Because the person must have the right to self-determination in a moment of life that is the most important - when you finish your life.

"You can decide the treatments, and you can make other choices during your life - in the professional field, in the family field - but why not at the end of life?"

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Her visit to Scotland comes as Catalonia is still reeling from the fallout from the region's independence referendum, which led the Madrid Government to pull the plug on the region's autonomy and dissolve the Catalan parliament pending fresh elections.

The crisis has stalled efforts by Catalonia to become the first part of Spain to legalise assisted dying. In January, the region's parliament voted by 80 per cent in favour of asking Madrid to devolve control over the law to Catalonia to pave the way for change.

Ms Terribas said: "Only if Catalonia gets independence would it be possible to change the law in Catalonia. But I don't know how much time will pass to get this - it's quite difficult."

Read more: MSPs reject Assisted Dying Bill for second time

In 2015, the Scottish Parliament rejected an Assisted Dying Bill originally brought by the late Margot MacDonald. The Scottish Council on Human Bioethics were among the organisations opposed, arguing that "suffering and dying persons would begin to be considered as having less or even no worth in society and, therefore, would be seen as having a duty to die quickly". They also stated in submissions to MSPs that it risked creating an ethos in Scottish society that "certain lives are not worth living and should be ended" - such as those of the frail elderly or disabled.

In contrast, the bioethics community in Catalonia has been at the forefront of persuading politicians to back the cause. Peter Warren, former office manager for Margot MacDonald, will today be appointed as the new convener for FATE after working in recent years in Catalunya with organisations such as the Bioethics Committee of Catalonia, of which Ms Terribas is also a member.

Ms Terribas said: "There is this argument in bioethics of the 'slippery slope' - that if you regulate, it is dangerous because it puts people under pressure to ask for euthanasia.

"This is false. One of the ways to stop the slippery slope is to have good regulation and good controls, so that the authorities may supervise every request and ensure that the requirements are accomplished. The fact that we regulate assisted dying does not oblige people to ask for it."

Since Belgium introduced physician-assisted suicide in 2003 for patients with terminal or incurable conditions, the percentage of people dying in this way steadily increased from 0.2 to 1.7 per cent in 2013.

Ms Terribas said: "It is natural - the citizens are growing older, chronic illness is growing, and this situation means they are more likely to ask for euthanasia or assisted suicide. The regulation in itself does not provoke a very big increase."

No one at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics was available to comment.

BACKGROUND: Long campaign to make assisted suicide legal remains alive and kicking

By Jody Harrison

DESPITE almost four out of five Scots believing that assisted suicide should be made legal, it remains against the law.

While it is not illegal to attempt to take your own life, helping someone can lead to prosecution and all attempts to change the law have floundered.

In England and Wales, the Suicide Act 1961 makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt, which is almost identical to the situation in Northern Ireland.

In 2010, Keir Starmer, then the director of public prosecutions south of the border, issued guidance that made it clear that family or friends who travelled with a loved one to the Swiss suicide group Dignitas would not risk prosecution.

However, Scotland’s prosecution service, the Crown Office, has issued no such guidance.

Assisted suicide is legal in Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium as well as Switzerland.

Two years ago, a bill on assisted suicide introduced by the late MSP Margo MacDonald and supported by Patrick Harvie of the Green Party was voted down at Holyrood.

The bill would have allowed those with terminal illnesses to seek the help of a doctor to end their own life.

Supporters said the plan had widespread public backing, but critics argued a change in the law would be unethical.

MSPs were given a free vote, although the Scottish Government did not support changing the law. It was rejected by almost 50 votes. Colin Campbell, who has multiple sclerosis, spoke earlier this year of his wish to end his own life in Switzerland.

He later decided not to go through with the procedure while he awaits the results of drug trials in the US.

He remains an active supporter of voluntary assisted suicide, and continues to campaign for it to be made legal in Scotland.

Mr Campbell said: “It is a nonsense to say that voluntary assisted suicide could lead to a ‘slippery slope’ in Scotland where people are under pressure to ask for euthanasia.

“If you travel to a country where it is legal there is a whole procedure in place to make sure it is well-regulated and that everyone knows what they are getting into.

“I had to go through a five-stage process and get a doctor to agree that I could go ahead with it after reviewing my case.

“It is quite simple to regulate, but it is the politicians who make it complicated with their arguments.”

Mr Campbell, 56, who comes from Inverness but now lives in Greenock, Inverclyde, has not ruled out returning to a Dignitas clinic in Switzerland before he becomes too unwell to travel.

He said: “If you are diagnosed with something horrible and incurable then it’s your human right to be allowed to end things with dignity.

“This is something that a majority of Scots support, but we are not listening to the wishes of the electorate.

“For some reason, Scottish politicians want to hold on to the coat-tails of England and block any legislation.

“But this is a chance to show ourselves as a progressive, modern, forward-thinking nation.”