RCPE Press Release

15 September 2010

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald will, today (15 September 2010), make a dual plea for greater resources to be allocated to sufferers of Parkinson’s Disease and for doctors to respect patients’ wishes with regard to assisted suicide.

Ms MacDonald will be giving a keynote address to a conference organised by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) to discuss how best to improve care of the elderly in Scotland [1]. Ms MacDonald’s presentation will focus primarily on Parkinson’s Disease, but will also address end of life issues.

Margo MacDonald MSP, Independent, said,

“Parkinson’s disease is a very debilitating and degenerative condition. While much emphasis in recent years has been placed on developing new drug treatments which can reduce the effects of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, there is a very low level of awareness amongst policymakers, the public and indeed doctors and other health professionals regarding the positive effect that structured exercise can have in enabling people with Parkinson’s disease to maintain their mobility, independence and quality of life. 

“Clearly, further research into new and more effective drug treatments is much-needed, but this should not be our sole focus. An increasing body of evidence is now demonstrating how effective exercise can be. It is essential that the Scottish Government and NHS in Scotland should seek to support the needs of people with Parkinson’s disease more fully by ensuring that increased resources are allocated at a national and, in turn, local level to enable access to physiotherapists and massage therapists. In parallel, we need to raise awareness amongst people with Parkinson’s disease and the wider public that by engaging in simple exercise programmes, such as aquarobics, mobility in Parkinson’s disease and a range of other diseases can be greatly maintained.”

Speaking on end of life issues, Ms MacDonald, said,

“I would like to applaud the RCPE for adopting and maintaining a neutral position on the issue of physician assisted suicide [2]. Along with the RCN, you have recognised that physician assisted suicide is unlike any other area of health policy and that medical organisations and policy makers should recognise and respect the full range of opinions of doctors rather than closing the door to discussion and opposing informed patient choice. For this reason it is vital that you continue to maintain this position and enable informed political, medical and public discussion to continue regarding how legislation could be developed which would enable doctors opposed to physician-assisted suicide, on religious or ethical grounds, to opt-out whilst still respecting the wishes of patients.

“Scotland has an enviable reputation for providing a very high standard of palliative care. Ultimately, it needs to be recognised that physician assisted-suicide should form an extension of our current system of palliative care and that we should work together to develop this in the interests of patients who have made a fully informed decision to end their life.”

Dr Neil Dewhurst, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE), said

“It should be stressed that Scotland has a very high standard of palliative care and that this has continued to improve since this issue was first debated in the Scottish Parliament in 2005. Having said that, the RCPE has adopted and maintains a neutral position on this issue. The College recognises that while many doctors are opposed to physician-assisted suicide on ethical or religious grounds, others favour patient choice and see a clear role for doctors potentially acting as an advocate for their patients and in ensuring appropriate safeguards. Whilst medical opinion is divided, the public should be confident that all doctors are sensitive to the pain of the dilemmas that some patients and their families have to face when an illness is incurable.”


Contact: Graeme McAlister on 0131-247-3693 or 07733-263453


  1. The RCPE ‘Care of the Elderly’ symposium will be held on 15 September 2010, from 9.00am – 4.55pm at the RCPE, 9 Queen Street, Edinburgh. Ms MacDonald MSP will be giving the opening address at 9.30am – 9.55am.
  2. The RCPE has maintained a position of neutrality for some years and most recently reviewed, and continued, this position earlier in 2010.