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Defending life
from conception to natural death


weekly update, 26 September to 2 October

2 October 2007

weekly update, 26 September to 2 October The Mental Capacity Act has come into force in England and Wales, 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. Catholic bishops in Connecticut have agreed to medics giving the morning-after pill to rape victims at the church's four hospitals in that state, according to a report in the Guardian. They had previously tried to fight a state law that requires the provision of the drug, marketed as "Plan B" in the US, for rape victims who attend hospital. A joint statement by the bishops and hospital chiefs said that it could be used, "since the teaching authority of the church has not definitively resolved this matter and since there is serious doubt about how Plan B pills work." [Guardian, 27 September ] Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary, commented: "It would seem that the Catholic church in Connecticut has failed to err on the side of caution here. Even if there is a question about whether the morning-after pill is abortifacient, it should not be provided until that question has been resolved definitively. . The manufacturers have stated that it can kill the embryo in the first days of life. Some promoters of the morning-after pill claim that it can't affect an existing pregnancy because they have re-defined pregnancy - and even conception - as beginning at implantation" The General Medical Council, which regulates doctors, has advised doctors that they need not, and in most cases should not, tell the parents of girls between 13 and16 if they are given abortions, treatment for sexual infections, or birth control. Doctors are advised to try to persuade children between the ages of 13 and 16 to inform their parents, they have been told not to tell parents unless they are given permission by the child. Family groups Christian Voice and Family and Youth Concern condemned the guidance. [Daily Mail, 28 September ] SPUC comment: The guidance seems geared to bring GMC advice into line with the 2003 Sexual Offences Act and the 2004 Children's Act, which critics regard as seeking to normalise sexual activity for 13 year-olds. The European Union (EU) must protect the right to life from conception, according to the Catholic Archbishop of Zadar, Croatia. Speaking at a meeting about his country's role in a united Europe, Most Rev Ivan Prenda also said that the EU should protect families from recent legislative attacks. John Smeaton, SPUC's national director who is at the conference in Zagreb, the capital, said: "Archbishop Prenda 's vision of the Catholic church's contribution to Europe is inspirational for the pro-life movement throughout the world." Dr Mario Živkovic, director of the Family Centre, Zagreb, also at the meeting, said: "Croatia's values are not only religious. We also bring ethical values to Europe and these are universal values which carry with them both rights and obligations, especially the right to life from conception and the rights of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman." Dr Michael Weninger of Austria, adviser on religious affairs to Mr José Manuel Barroso, the EU's president, also addressed the conference which was organised by the Croatian government. [SPUC, 27 September] Inspections of 23 British hospitals found that some fail to treat the elderly with enough dignity despite saying they met government standards, a PA report in the Guardian claims. The Healthcare Commission found that, while there were no serious breaches of the government's set standards for care, only five of the hospitals investigated met acceptable standards for dignity, privacy and nutrition. 10 hospitals were told to make improvements. Mixed-sex wards, lack of help with eating and being left in soiled clothes were highlighted. The findings have led to renewed calls from charities to improve care for older people. [Guardian, 27 September ]

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