A LEADING forensic pathologist has voiced concerns about plans to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland.

Professor Anthony Busuttil, who identified victims of both the Lockerbie disaster and Dunblane tragedy, said the move would break "the eternal trust" between patients and doctors.

The health committee of the Scottish Parliament will consider details of the proposed bill, which was launched by independent MSP Margo MacDonald, this week.

If MSPs back the legislation trained facilitators will be licensed to help patients obtain a lethal prescription from a doctor. Medical professionals must certify that the patient is suffering from a terminal or life-shortening illness or a progressive condition.

Professor Busuttil said such a law would overturn key medical and legal principles, arguing the relationship between patients and doctors is based on a duty of care.

He said: "Doctors from the word go have had a duty of care to their patient which is based on trust. If they start to harm people even with their consent, they are breaking that eternal trust between patient and the doctor. Legislators have to look very carefully at whether what has been deemed appropriate and correct for so many centuries should ... be changed."

The pathologist, from Edinburgh University, also said changing the law could hamper the considerable efforts that have been made to prevent suicides in Scotland. "Scots kill themselves more frequently than anyone else in the British Isles and the Scottish government policy is to decrease it, so which direction are we going in?" he asked.

He called for other measures to be taken to look after people with incurable conditions, such as hospices being fully

paid for by the NHS and suggested a discussion on the stage at which healthcare staff stop trying to treat the terminally ill.

An analysis of nearly 900 submissions made to the health committee on the members' bill, now being led by Green leader Patrick Harvie, found 73% of respondents backed it. However, the Scottish Parliament's justice committee has already expressed reservations about the proposals.

Retired doctor Bob Scott, spokesman for My Life, My Death, My Choice - a campaign group backing the bill, said: "We would welcome the bill given it would allow a mature discussion to take place between doctors and patients, something that because of the inhibitions in place from the General Medical Council currently cannot happen."