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Kirk ministers clash over assisted suicide

Ministers are debating the implications of assisted suicide in light of revamped proposals to legalise the practice.

Two Church of Scotland ministers said they both approach the issue with compassion, but arrived at different conclusions.

The attempt to change the law in Scotland is being made by Margo MacDonald, an Independent MSP at Holyrood whose first attempt failed in a free vote in 2010.

She hopes to persuade the re-elected SNP Scottish Government and previous opponents to change their minds and get behind revised legislation, due to be formally lodged this spring.

Reverend Scott McKenna, minister at Mayfield Salisbury Parish Church in Edinburgh, said assisted suicide is not anti-Christian.

"My starting point is compassion," he said before taking part in the debate today, hosted by campaign group Friends at the End.

"Put yourself at the bedside of someone suffering terribly, particularly when people could have, or would have, requested help to die and been denied. Prolonging agony doesn't seem to be right."

He conceded his views are at odds with the Kirk hierarchy but said his comments have attracted a lot of support.

"Among my congregation, not everyone agrees but many, many do," he said.

"I received cards, letters and emails from all over the world after speaking about this, which is encouraging."

Death is arguably the most personal part of life, he said. "Autonomy for decisions in our lives is not selfish," he added.

"We take autonomous decisions for many things - who we marry, our jobs, having children."

But Reverend Sally Foster-Fulton, associate minister of Dunblane Cathedral and who convenes the Kirk's Church and Society Council, said Mr McKenna's argument relies on an "autonomy myth".

She said: "We live in communities and we are concerned for the impact on the most vulnerable in our society."

Despite the difference of opinion, she said the Kirk is a broad church capable of tolerating both views.

"I represent, as does Scott, the compassionate Church of Scotland," she said.

"We are coming to this from the same place but arrive at different places."

Opinion appears to be split on whether assisted suicide should be legalised, according to responses to a consultation on Ms MacDonald's Bill, published in November.

Interpretation of "substantive" responses by individuals and organisations suggests 59% are in favour and 35% are opposed, while 6% are neutral.

The overall result of all 848 responses, which included a letter-writing campaign against the plan, changes the balance with two-thirds opposed and one-third in support.

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