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Will incapacity bill be in the Queen’s speech?

19 September 2003

Will incapacity bill be in the Queen’s speech? Westminster, 19 September 2003--Concern is mounting about the government's controversial draft Mental Incapacity Bill. This week in Parliament, parliamentarians, leading lawyers and doctors have made critical and alarming statements on the dangers to vulnerable patients of the draft Bill's proposals (see notes for editors below). Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary, commented: "It is clear that both the supporters and opponents of the Bill have grave concerns about it in part or as a whole. The Bill is generating the same, indeed greater, fear of permitting euthanasia that has caused governments of both colours to keep these proposals at arm's length. "Just like the draft Mental Health Bill, the draft Mental Incapacity Bill has run into serious opposition and likewise I expect wise heads to advise the government to leave it out of the Queen's Speech. After 14 years of working on a mental incapacity bill, its promoters have failed again to achieve a consensus which overcomes the considerable controversy and problems attached to the bill," concluded Mr. Ozimic. SPUC is hosting a half-day conference on the draft Bill's dangers on Saturday 27 September at Regent Hall (Salvation Army), Oxford Street, central London. Media can apply for free tickets by contacting Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary, on 020 7222 5845 or 07939 177683. Notes for editors In oral evidence sessions of the joint select committee considering the draft Bill, Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Labour) said that "the issue of euthanasia hangs rather uncomfortably around these issues" and that concern that the Bill's provisions for advance decisions and lasting powers of attorney "could amount to euthanasia" had been "voiced extensively by a number of groups". Baroness Knight of Collingtree (Conservative) said that the committee had received an "unprecedented" number of letters concerned about the denial of feeding by tube to incapacitated patients. (Baroness Knight's Patients' Protection Bill to prohibit denial of sustenance to patients, was passed by the House of Lords last Friday.) Lord Rix (crossbencher) said that learning disability and self-advocacy groups were "very suspicious of the bill". The Law Society of Scotland predicted there would be "lots of litigation for at least a decade" and that the 'general authority' under the Bill was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights . Dr Donald Lyons, medical adviser for elderly services to the Greater Glasgow Primary Care Trust, said that his grave reservations about the Bill meant that he "would not want to work under this Bill" if it was passed. In written evidence to the committee, Richard Gordon QC, a leading human rights lawyer, has concluded that the draft Bill is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, in particular the rights to life and access to justice. In a parliamentary briefing hosted by Dr. Brian Iddon MP (Labour), James Bogle, leading medical barrister of the Middle Temple, warned that under the Bill medically untrained decision-makers would have power over vulnerable patients. Dr. Philip Howard, senior lecturer at St George's Hospital Medical School, London, predicted that under the draft Bill suicide notes would be regarded as legally-binding advance directives. Dr. Jacqueline Laing, Ph.D (Oxon.), a legal expert on the Bill, told a Chester conference last weekend that the draft Bill would be the first statute in the world to authorise euthanasia by neglect or starvation. Tribune, the left-wing political journal, reported on 22 August that "the emotive issue of euthanasia is again on the political agenda with a draft Government Bill that could see an overhaul of the system whereby doctors are permitted to withdraw food and fluid from mentally-incapacitated patients." On the opposite side of the political spectrum, the Daily Mail reported on 28 June that the Bill would "give relatives the power to decide whether a person lives or dies".

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