PATIENTS as young as 18 will be able to register their wish for assisted suicide with their GP under the bill independent MSP Margo MacDonald is bringing to the Scottish Parliament.

Ms MacDonald said she wanted people to be able to notify their doctor of their wishes in the event of a terminal or irreversible illness and have it kept on record.

She outlined her plan, which she hopes will allay fears about pressure being placed on the elderly or disabled to end their lives, at a conference on end of life choices organised by the Scotland Patients Association.

Retired GP Dr Iain Kerr, who confessed in The Herald last week to helping elderly patients end their lives earlier this month, was in the audience and spoke to Ms MacDonald.

She said she felt emotional about bringing the bill to parliament before the summer, saying she knew a lot of people hoping to benefit from it.

Her previous attempt to legalise assisted suicide in 2010 failed to win the necessary political support.

Ms MacDonald said: "I am much more confident. I think we can get it through. It is a better bill and opinion has moved on."

She outlined other elements of the bill which include training facilitators to become "friends at the end" and help patients who want to take their own lives. She said they could help with steps such as collecting the fatal prescription.

Ms MacDonald said: "The sort of people we would imagine would volunteer for this because they need to be registered, they need to be trained, mentored and supported.

"But we are not talking about a large number of people. There are not a large number of deaths that would fall into the categories we are suggesting."

She said it was estimated around 50 people in Scotland would seek assisted suicide annually if it was legalised for those with terminal or irreversible conditions.

Jeremy Balfour, of the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, argued against changing the legislation.

He expressed concern about the notion used by those in favour of euthanasia of losing dignity when dying. He said people should never be regarded as losing their dignity whatever state they were in.

Mr Balfour said: "If you do not understand inherent dignity and use that, I believe you not only open a tin of worms on this issue but also a lot of issues.

"If I can be born without dignity what does that do to people with severe physical and mental disability?"