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Dangers ahead as Mental Capacity Act comes into force

1 October 2007

The Mental Capacity Act comes into force in England and Wales today, giving statutory authority to advance refusals of treatment (living wills). A leading lawyer in the field has warned that medical staff who do not follow so-called living wills could be disciplined, if not actually prosecuted. Mr James Bogle, a London barrister, is quoted as saying: "Doctors and nurses would be compelled to obey the advanced decision rather than what they thought was in the patient's best interests because it overrides clinical best interests." [Telegraph, 1 October] Dr Philip Howard, a senior hospital gastroenterologist, was quoted as saying: "The law will lead to real difficulties when a family member has the power to order that someone should die while at the same time they are a beneficiary of the will. Law governing wills and property makes it very difficult to influence someone to make a will in your favour - the Mental Capacity Act has nothing like that sort of safeguard." [Daily Mail, 28 September] The first so-called public guardian has been appointed under the act. Mr Richard Brook's office began by publishing a survey which suggested that most people have not made provision for their care or finances if they become mentally incapacitated. [Western Daily Press, 29 September] SPUC supports a service advising relatives, carers and medical staff dealing with incapacitated patients at risk of deliberate dehydration and starvation. The Patients First Network can be contacted on 0800 169 1719.

A child has been secretly aborted after an Argentinian court overturned a legal attempt to save his or her life. The child was of four months' gestation and the mother, identified only by her initials "MFC", has learning difficulties, according to a Lifesite report. Her mother had initially asked the courts to permit an abortion, but her father, who was estranged, tried to stop it A team of 16 doctors recommended against the abortion the pro-abortion health minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia intervened to fly the woman to another area where doctors secretly performed the abortion. The woman's father made the initial legal intervention. [LifeSite, 30 September]

A woman has given birth after acting as a surrogate mother for her daughter. Ms Rosinete Serrao, 51, of Recife, Brazil, bore male twins. Surrogacy is allowed for close relatives. [ITN on Channel 4, 30 September]

A pharmacist has refused to give the morning-after pill to a woman in her 20s on conscientious grounds. The un-named practitioner in Huddersfield, England, cited his religious beliefs and his professional body's conscience clause. The woman was told by someone at the pharmacy where she could get such pills. [Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 28 September]

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