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News, 12 October 2004

12 October 2004

12 October 2004 The House of Commons has approved the government's Mental Capacity Bill at second reading stage by 326 votes to 62. Last night's debate was dominated by criticisms of the Bill for permitting euthanasia by neglect and assisted suicide for vulnerable adults. In his first speech since returning to the back-benches, Mr Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green and former Conservative leader, said: "Euthanasia by omission is at the heart of this bill." Miss Ann Widdecombe, Conservative member for Maidstone and the Weald, pointed to the definition of treatment as the reason why the Bill was seen as threatening euthanasia by neglect. Ms Claire Curtis-Thomas, Labour member for Crosby, spoke graphically of the suffering entailed for those who die in this way. She had been asked by doctors to consider leaving her own mother to die from starvation following a major stroke. She insisted that her mother be fed, but under the bill as it stands, she may not have been offered the option. Ms Curtis-Thomas abstained from voting. Mr Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead, voted against the Bill. Government supporters claimed the bill had the approval of disability groups and was not opposed by church leaders. Critics noted the fears of disability rights groups about the dangers and shortcomings of the bill, and pointed to the dissatisfaction of Roman Catholic church leaders who say that the Bill should not become law in its present form. SPUC expressed disappointment that the bill was not defeated but hoped that the level of opposition would force the government to concede major amendments or scrap the Bill and go back to the drawing board. [SPUC, 11 October] Mr Christopher Reeve, the disabled American actor who campaigned for human embryo research, has died aged 52. [News Letter, 12 October ] A Canadian disability rights campaigner has urged scientists not to use Mr Reeve's death to promote such research. Mr Mark Pickup, who has progressive multiple sclerosis, says that embryonic cells would not have cured Mr Reeve's quadriplegia, and that such cells "hold the least promise for therapies of any kind". [Life News, 11 October ] Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, recently praised Mr Reeve while campaigning. [Financial Times, 12 October ] A US pharmacist gave evidence before a disciplinary hearing this week on his reasons for refusing a customer the contraceptive pill. Neil Noesen's defence said that punishing him for his actions would violate his constitutional right to religious expression. [Guardian, 12 October ] A suicide guide entitled The Final Exit has been criticised after a retired teacher used it to commit suicide. Walter Appleby, 61, died of asphyxiation from helium toxicity and a plastic bag. Coronor Peter Bedford said: "This information is all too easy to access and nothing I can say or do can change that." [BBC, 11 October ] Seven young people have been found dead in a van outside Tokyo in what appears to be the country's biggest group suicide. A police spokesman said that the four men and three women are believed to have met over the internet where suicide sites and chatrooms offer advice on suicide methods. [Times, 12 October ]

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