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Revised Mental Incapacity Bill still set to legalise euthanasia

22 April 2004

Revised Mental Incapacity Bill still set to legalise euthanasia London, 22 April 2004-- Revisions to the government's draft Mental Incapacity Bill announced today in Constitutional Affairs Minister Lord Filkin's speech in Nottingham, were described by SPUC today as "cosmetic changes designed to make legalised euthanasia by omission respectable." Commenting on an announcement from the Department for Constitutional Affairs, Paul Tully, SPUC General Secretary, said: "The adjustments to the Bill announced by Lord Filkin today do not amount to any material lessening of the threats posed by this draft legislation. "The assertion that it will 'remain unlawful to take a person's life' is not a change in the government's position. They have always claimed that it will remain unlawful to actively kill patients. Nor is it a change in the direction of the Bill, which is to permit (and indeed, in some cases to require) killing by withholding of basic treatment or care in certain cases," Mr Tully continued. "The restrictions on advance decisions announced today are nothing new. - The suggestion that advance refusals must specify which treatments are being refused is already in the draft Bill (clause 23(1)a). - The requirement that the decision has not been revoked is already in clauses 23(3) and 24(2)a. - The presumption that life-sustaining treatment can be given if there is doubt about the applicability of the advance decision is already implicit in clause 24(5), and other clauses. If the decision is applicable, however, it is illegal to give such treatment. "Lord Filkin says that he does not want to put doctors in an 'unfair or uncertain position.' It is entirely unfair for the Bill to demand that doctors must bring about the death of patients when required to do so by an advance refusal of treatment or care. This will be anathema to doctors trained to care for patients and pursue their patients' best interests in medical terms. The doctor's position will not be uncertain, it is true. He or she will face prosecution for criminal assault if he provides treatment or care that, but for the advance refusal document, would be required according to existing medical standards. "This situation is typical of the dilemmas that the Bill will generate," concluded Mr Tully. Critics of the Bill who have been hoping for significant amendments, such as a clear exclusion of mercy-killing by neglect, will be disappointed by today's announcement. SPUC can be telephoned on (020) 7222 5845 and Paul Tully's mobile telephone number is 07939 178719.

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