BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
ELEVEN prominent Catholics have written to The Catholic Herald this week to highlight the dangers which they say are inherent in the Government’s controversial new Mental Capacity Bill.
The letter, from the Master of the Guild of Catholic Doctors, Dr Chris Harrison, is countersigned by a further five doctors including Michael Jarmulowicz, a medical student and two barristers, Jacqueline Laing and James Bogle, who is chair of the Catholic Union.
The letter is also signed by two priests, Fr Hugh MacKenzie, national chaplain to the guild of Catholic doctors, and Fr Timothy Finigan, chairman of the Association for Priests for the Gospel of Life.
They state that the Bill compromises the intrinsic dignity of every human person irrespective of his or her mental impairment or physical condition and is the first step towards euthanasia on demand.
The Mental Capacity Bill received its first reading in the House of Commons earlier this month following a protracted draft stage during which the Bill’s sponsors, including government minister Lord Filkin, held extensive talks with Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff, the bishops’ representative for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship.
Archbishop Smith had strong backing from the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group which had insisted that the only way to safeguard the commitment to life was to be closely involved with the drafting of the legislation.
But the letter, headed “Mental Capacity Bill: Duty to kill or duty of care for the incapacitated?”, strongly refutes the argument that the Bill is being introduced under the auspices of “promoting patient autonomy”. In reality, the letter states, “the Mental Capacity Bill permits ‘slow euthanasia’ a form of homicide by omission and sets up a pathway by which routine lethal injection will inevitably become desirable.” The Bill allows the enforcement of living wills, primarily the right of patients, who may become incapacitated, to specify that they no longer wish to have treatment. But opponents of the legislation have argued that this will permit the removal of all treatment and care — especially the removal of food and fluids. The letter writers state that when relatives and loved ones witness the suffering this causes, they will accept the lethal injection as being in the patient’s best interests. This, they state, is the longterm objective of the proeuthanasia lobby.
They add that the Bill will turn “medical practice upside down” by removing the duty of care inherent in the Hippocratic oath.
Proponents of the Bill said Clause 58, which states that nothing in the legislation will affect the law relating to manslaughter, murder or assisted suicide, safeguarded the right to life. But the letter writers insist this would provide little or no protection.
“The Bill is clear that a valid and applicable advance refusal or a refusal of life-sustaining treatment by an attorney, must be obeyed and is, accordingly, legal,” they write.
“If the law ceases to regard such termination of life as illegal then Clause 58 will not, of itself, change that.” John Smeaton, national director of SPUC, which has consistently opposed the legislation, said the intervention of Catholic lawyers and doctors should make both bishops and politicians “rethink their position”. He called for Catholic parliamentarians to oppose the Bill at second reading.