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SPUC urges supporters to oppose Mental Capacity Bill

7 July 2004

SPUC urges supporters to oppose Mental Capacity Bill Westminster, 7 July 2004 - The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) is continuing to put its case against the Mental Capacity Bill. John Smeaton, SPUC's National Director, is today sending a message to supporters, the text of which follows: As you know, this is a difficult and significant time in the history of the pro-life movement. We are aware that you are hearing different voices on the way forward on this Bill. SPUC's position is as follows: * Senior doctors, leading lawyers and bioethicists, as well as a number of prolife bodies in Britain agree that the Mental Capacity Bill enshrines euthanasia by neglect in statute law and they are seriously alarmed by its introduction to Parliament. * The Government deny that the Bill enshrines euthanasia by neglect in statute law and their defence of the Bill was circulated to clergy by pro-life parliamentarians last week. A summary of SPUC's response is below. SPUC is also preparing a detailed reply to the Government's arguments and this will be published on our website. Our information sheet on the Bill is also on the website. * It is suggested that there are good things for the mentally incapacitated in the Bill and, because of this, that the second reading of the Bill should not be opposed. SPUC stongly disagrees. If the Govemment had introduced the Abortion Act in 1966/1967, and if that legislation had included improved care and support for mothers-to-be, it would still have been quite wrong to support the Bill at second reading. A summary of our response to the Goverment follows: It is claimed that section 58 prohibits assisted suicide and euthanasia by act or omission. Section 58 reads: "For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that nothing in this Act is to be taken to affect the law relating to murder, manslaughter or the operation of section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 (c.60) (assisting suicide)." * The courts have already interpreted the existing law on homicide to allow intentional killing by omission, most notably in the Bland case and in subsequent similar cases. Pro-life parliamentarians agree that section 58 does not reverse the Bland judgement. * The government rejected a version of section 58 which was aimed at prohibiting euthanasia by omission, drafted by pro-life lawyer Professor John Finnis. The Government will not accept an explicit prohibition of euthanasia by omission. * Guidance given to the medical profession by the government, the British Medical Association (BMA) and the General Medical Council (GMC) has led to euthanasia by omission in a wider range of cases (the BMA gives the examples of stroke and dementia patients). Section 58 does not overturn the guidance of the BMA and the GMC. * Pro-life parliamentarians now supporting the Bill criticised the idea of this section last December in a motion which stated that they noted the "recommendation that an extra assurance should be written into the Bill to assuage any fears about euthanasia; stresses, however, that changing the name on a package does not change the contents". * Even if section 58 had been drafted to prohibit euthanasia by omission, the Bill would then be in conflict with itself. The trend of anti-life courts' rulings suggests that this conflict would be taken to condone euthanasia by omission. It is also claimed that the MCB does not enshrine the 1992 House of Lords Bland judgement. However, the Bill does effectively enshrine Bland by: * its definition of 'treatment' which includes tube-feeding; * its 'best interests' criteria which do not include protecting life, preserving health or preventing suffering; * not prohibiting intentional killing by omission in section 58; * extending 1, 2 and 3 to all mentally-incapacitated patients, which would include Bland-type patients. The Government has already accepted a recommendation that "the Bill makes provision for a regulation making power" to specify how decisions on "withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration from patients in a permanent vegetative state" are to be decided. (R40, Joint Committee on the draft Mental Incapacity Bill, 28 November 2003) The Government has also said that the existing requirement that Bland-type cases are referred to the courts in each instance remains. By endorsing this requirement, the Bill is again indirectly enshrining Bland, because the courts have consistently ruled in favour of euthanasia by omission for PVS patients since Bland. A spokesperson for SPUC comments: "It is now completely clear that it was the intention of the government all along to enshrine in statute law the Law Lords' Bland judgement and to extend it massively to non-PVS, NHS, mentally incapacitated patients. The Bland judgement departed from the rules of human decency when the Law Lords admitted they were involved in intentional killing by removing assisted food and fluids but they sought to put some kind of brake upon it by saying that future cases be referred to the courts. With this Bill, the government is taking up where the Law Lords left off." It is furthermore claimed that the pro-euthanasia lobby are disappointed that the Mental Capacity Bill does not weaken the legal prohibition on euthanasia. We know of no evidence for this claim. In fact, Lord Joffe, the euthanasia lobby's champion in the House of Lords, has stated that, because his Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill only legalises euthanasia for patients with mental capacity, it would not be in conflict with the MCB which only covers people with mental incapacity. Lord Joffe's comments indicate that the MCB and the Joffe Bill are in fact complementary, not contradictory. Besides legalising euthanasia by neglect, the MCB's passage would fulfil key objectives of the worldwide euthanasia movement: legally-binding living wills and medical powers of attorney. If you have not already done so, please telephone your MP on (020) 7219 3000 and ask him or her to vote against the Mental Capacity Bill at second reading. Finally, may we ask those of you who have a religious belief kindly to pray for God's guidance for all those involved in the life-and-death struggle on the Mental Capacity Bill. Thank you. John Smeaton, National Director, SPUC

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