From Mr John Smeaton SIR – As the members of the AllParty Parliamentary Pro-Life Group point out (letter, May 28), “the Mental Incapacity Bill in its present form would legalise euthanasia by omission”. Furthermore, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales and the Linacre Centre have confirmed: “It is the doctor who seeks to override a suicidal or homicidal refusal (and so protect the patient from death or disability) who would seem to be made liable to criminal proceedings.” The draft Bill would legalise euthanasia by omission and would criminalise pro-life doctors. It is for just such reasons that SPUC opposes it.
Nearly a year has gone by since the Government published its Bill. A Joint Parliamentary Committee backed the Bill and rejected the overwhelming majority of submissions it received, which pointed out that the Bill legalised euthanasia by omission. The Government responded favourably to the Joint Committee’s report. This is not surprising. In April 2001, Department of Health guidance to health professionals made the Government’s position clear: the Government warned doctors that they may face criminal prosecution if they refuse to withhold or withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration from patients who made suicidally-motivated living wills or advance directives.
Unless the Bill is completely redrafted, it will be used to promote deliberate killing by neglect. Minor amendments will not prevent this. Once the Bill is introduced, there is nothing to stop pro-euthanasia MPs introducing more damaging anti-life amendments on a free vote. This is what happened in 1990, when abortion provisions were included in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill with the intention of restricting abortion. In fact, amendments to those provisions resulted in abortion law being liberalised even to the point of allowing abortion up to birth.
The All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group suggests that SPUC should not oppose the Mental Incapacity Bill because it contains good clauses on financial and social welfare. To this, SPUC says: Would it have been right not to have opposed the 1967 Abortion Act if it had included clauses giving child benefit and housing rights to pregnant women?
Yours faithfully, JOHN SMEATON National Director, SPUC London SW1