Bishops call for further amendments to Mental Capacity Bill

A Bishops' Conference briefing paper published yesterday by Archbishop Peter Smith and Professor John Finnis sets out key outstanding concerns about the Mental Capacity Bill published on June 18, which for the first time will give statutory force to advance decisions (or 'living wills' ) and confers significant powers on proxy decision takers. The note explains the involvement of the Bishops' Conference and others in seeking changes to the draft Bill published last year. In response to the many representations made, significant changes have been made by the Government to the draft Bill, including a declaratory clause preserving the law against euthanasia and suicide. In welcoming these important changes, however, Archbishop Smith and Professor Finnis say (para 8): "that is not to say the Bill is now adequate as it standsa declaratory clause preserving the law against euthanasia and assisted suicide, though the essential minimum, would not by itself be a sufficient safeguard against euthanasia and suicide by omission because it would not remedy an existing serious deficiency in the law about hastening death by omission, which has been in disarray since the decisions of the highest court in the Bland case in 1993" The Briefing Note points to important weaknesses in four significant aspects, and (in paras 20 and 25), identifies two vital amendments needed to bolster the safeguards now in the Bill. These are: A clause withholding the statute's authority from any proxy or advance decision made with a purpose of bringing about the death of the person about whose personal welfare the decision is made; and a clause making clear that in respect of medical acts and decisions about the personal welfare of the patient, the determination of 'best interests' must take into account the person's life and health so far as they could properly be the object of health care. Archbishop Smith, Chairman of the Bishops' Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, and Professor Finnis say (para 13): " Taken together these amendments would lay to rest many reasonable fears about the Bill's impact."

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