Growing opposition to Mental Capacity Bill in House of Lords

 Some of the most eminent peers spanning all parties have joined together to table an amendment to the Mental Capacity Bill (MCB) to prevent euthanasia through omission. They are led by Lord Walton of Detchant - former President of the General Medical Council and Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics (1994) which examined in depth the whole issue of euthanasia. The amendment has the support of the Catholic Archbishop of Cardiff, the Rt Revd Peter Smith. Lord Walton is supported by leading doctors and lawyers in the Lords Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (Professor of Palliative Medicine); Lord McColl of Dulwich (Emeritus Professor of Surgery, Guy's Hospital, London), a Conservative Spokesman on Health; Lord Brennan QC and Lord Carlile of Berriew QC. Others include Baroness Williams of Crosby (Shirley Williams), former leader of the Lib Dem Party in the Lords; Lord Ahmed; Lord Alton of Liverpool, Baroness Howells of hospital) St Davids, Baroness Masham; Baroness Chapman, Lord Patten, Baroness Blatch (Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party); Baroness Chalker of Wallasey; Baroness Cox, and Baroness Knight of Collingtree. Other peers are adding their names, daily, as sponsors of the amendment. The MCB is due to begin its Report Stage debates on March 15. "Most people are aware that the Government amendments have certainly improved some of the most questionable aspects of the Bill" said Phyllis Bowman of Right To Life, a pressure group. "Thankfully, however, an increasing number of peers are recognising the fact that unless there is a further amendment suicidally motivated advance decisions would compel doctors to withdraw treatment (including assisted food and fluids) thus causing death through dehydration and starvation. Any doctor opposed to suicide would be compelled to conform with the advance directive - or he would be charged with assault and battery. "As the Bill has no conscience clause the doctor would be debarred from withdrawing from the case. However, a further amendment has been tabled to protect doctors with conscientious objections - but this is also opposed by the Government like the first amendment "Support is building in the Lords and we have every hope of achieving amendments if the campaign develops speedily enough. Our greatest fear is that the Government may schedule the debate so late in the day that peers will have left the House before the votes take place. Another concern is the fact that the Report Stage debates were originally to have begun on March 1 - but have been deferred because of the controversies regarding the Terrorist Bill. It is imperative that supporters throughout the country maintain the pressure in urging Peers and MPs to support the pro-life amendments and do not become disconcerted by the dates being changed." David Alton - Lord Alton of Liverpool - commented: "Such have been the improvements to the Bill that the offending clause would affect very few cases - but it is essential that we do all we can to ensure that the Bill is watertight. We are anxious that people throughout the country continue to show their support for the pro-life amendments. We must make the Government aware of public feeling on the issue."

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