A LAW that would legalise assisted suicide is facing growing opposition, as academics and ethicists raised fresh concerns that it would lead to the elderly being put under pressure to kill themselves.

Figures within the medical profession have also raised new concerns that if the Bill currently making its way through Holyrood passes, it would undermine efforts to reduce suicides generally and open the door to euthanasia.

Advocates of the law change, which was proposed by Independent MSP Margo MacDonald and has been taken over by Green co-convenor Patrick Harvie following her death last April, argue that people should be entitled to end their suffering and that strong safeguards are included to prevent abuse.

However, a series of documents submitted to Holyrood's Health Committee, which is taking evidence over the proposals, raise fears that it could lead to patients being pressurised into taking a lethal dose of drugs before they are ready.

The J Kenyon Mason Institute for Medicine, Life Sciences and Law, based at the University of Edinburgh, said in its submission that there were insufficient safeguards to protect patients "from coercion or undue influence in making decisions".

Meanwhile, Robert Preston, director of Living and Dying Well, a research body established in 2010 to examine the evidence surrounding the end-of-life debate, claimed there was "no effective safeguarding system to protect the public and especially its most vulnerable members".

He went on to argue that there are a number of important weaknesses in the Bill, including the lack of the need for a psychiatric assessment before an assisted suicide could take place.

He said the role of proposed "licensed facilitators", who would be trained to offer support and have to be there when a person ended their life, raised serious questions.

Mr Preston added: "In these days when home visits are not as common as was once the case, doctors often know little of their patients' lives beyond the consulting room. Yet the Bill is asking them to make life or death decisions without any objective assessment regime to guide them."

Stephen Smith, a Birmingham Law School professor and an expert on the end of life issue, said he was broadly in favour of allowing assisted suicide, but questioned whether sufficient safeguards were in place in the proposed legislation.

He raised concern that licensed facilitators need not be medically trained, and that imposing a 14-day period in which a suicide must be carried out or the drugs returned could "force individuals to die earlier than they might otherwise wish".

While the Scottish Government opposes the law change, MSPs are to be given a free vote on the assisted suicide law.

If passed, patients with a life-shortening or terminal condition would be entitled to receive a lethal prescription after making three decorations to doctors, with time delays between each step, signalling they wish to die.

Doctors could block the process if they do not believe medical evidence backs up the patient's conclusion that their quality of life is unacceptable, while the patient's first decoration must be signed by a witness, who knows the person but is not a close family member and does not stand to gain financially from their death. While assistance can be offered to the patient to take the drug, they must administer it themselves.

A similar Bill was conclusively rejected by MSPs in 2010, however supporters of assisted suicide believe public opinion on the issue has shifted significantly since then.

But the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics labelled the proposals "dangerous" and said elderly and other vulnerable people may feel it is their "duty to die" as they are a burden or because their care was eating up family members' inheritance.

The Anscombe Bioethics Centre, a Roman Catholic academic institute, said it believed the law would "entrench the view that the lives of those who are terminally ill or have a life-shortening illness, unlike the lives of other human beings, can sometimes have no value, or even perhaps a negative value".

It also warned that while the law specifies that a person must kill themselves through their own deliberate act and did not legalise euthanasia, there was a danger that there was a "logical progression from one to the other" once the principle that human lives could be ended was established.

Last week, MSPs heard evidence from police and legal experts, who called for greater clarity over when the "fine line" between assisting a suicide and euthanasia was crossed.