[This is the headline over an editorial in today's edition of The Herald. It reads in part:]
A small fortune in political capital has been made from the fact that, nearly a year after being released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi is still alive. (...)
At the time, much was made of the suggestion from Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who was responsible for the decision, that Megrahi had only three months to live.
In fact, MacAskill chose his words very carefully. His statement read: “A three-month prognosis is now a reasonable estimate,” adding the rider: “He may die sooner – he may live longer.” In the event, the latter has prevailed, though news from Tripoli in recent days suggests Megrahi will die soon and is subject only to palliative care.
The fact that he has defied estimates of his limited life expectancy made at the time of his release in no way invalidates the Justice Secretary’s decision. Had Megrahi remained in Greenock Prison, he could not have received the treatment and care that a cancer patient requires. (...)
As the months have gone on, those who opposed the release have questioned the assumptions made about Megrahi’s life expectancy. Some have even suggested he is not suffering from cancer at all. Other critics have made much of statements from Dr Karol Sikora and other consultants, commissioned by the Libyan government last year to assess the prisoner’s condition. However, these were not the basis on which MacAskill made his decision. Rather, it was a report from Dr Andrew Fraser, director of health and care for the Scottish Prison Service, which collated the views of a number of specialists and consultants involved in Meg rahi’s care. They agreed his condition was terminal and was deteriorating. This remains the case and it is on this basis that his case met the criteria for compassionate release.
Whether or not these specialists predicted he would die within three months is both irrelevant and unlikely. No doctor can predict exactly when death will occur and patients with terminal conditions often defy the odds. For that reason, the demand from Labour’s Dr Richard Simpson, that a second opinion be sought on whether Megrahi definitely had less three months to live, was impractical.
MacAskill should not feel embarrassed that Megrahi has managed to cling to life for longer than his doctors expected. If he turns out to have been innocent, the decision not to compel him to die in prison and in pain will be deemed just as well as compassionate.
[In the same newspaper there is a report by Lucy Adams on the state of Mr Megrahi's health. The following are excerpts:]
The health of the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing has worsened and experts say “a cold could finish him off”.
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Libyan who was freed early from prison last August because he was expected to die within three months, has failed to respond to chemotherapy.
According to the latest bulletin about his condition, all treatment for prostate cancer has stopped and he is now receiving only palliative care.
Doctors are also said to be concerned that he is struggling to come to terms with his prognosis.
East Renfrewshire Council and the Scottish Government is sent a monthly report on Megrahi’s progress but there has been growing scepticism about the various medical views involved because the Libyan has survived for 11 months rather than three.
Last month Professor Karol Sikora, who examined Megrahi last summer and gave him less than three months to live, said he could last for up 10 years. Sikora was one of three doctors paid for by the Libyan Government to examine Megrahi.
However, his report has never been read by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who was pilloried internationally for choosing to grant him compassionate release. MacAskill made the decision based on a report by Dr Andrew Fraser, head of health at the Scottish Prison Service, which had itself been based upon the expert opinions of at least two UK consultants and the prison doctor. (...)
Doctors have suggested that he has lived far longer than expected because of the positive psychological impact of his release and return to his home and family, as well as the high level of medical attention he has received in Tripoli. (...)
It is thought that when he dies, medical reports will be released, though there are other documents unlikely to be released.
The Herald revealed last month that hundreds of pages of information, pinpointing why the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing should be granted a fresh appeal, will remain secret.
The Crown Office, the Foreign Office and police have all failed to give their consent to an official request to disclose the material, as has Megrahi.
The fact the official Lockerbie papers may never be published is likely to prove embarrassing for those who have not allowed disclosure and the ministers who suggested the papers would be published. It will also fuel the frustration of the families of the 270 victims who have waited more than 21 years for answers.
Megrahi was granted fresh leave to appeal in June 2007, based on the three-and-a-half-year probe by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, but the appeal suffered delays and last summer he dropped the case to improve his chances of returning home to Libya.