By Luke Coppen ANTI-EUTHANASIA campaigners have criticised Government proposals to give third parties possible powers of life and death over mentally incapacitated patients.
They said that the proposals, which could be introduced in October in a White Paper on mental incapacity, would constitute "back-door" euthanasia.
Catholic MP and Minister Keith Vaz unveiled the Government proposals at a Mencap conference in London last week.
He said that the Government was considering extending the Power of Attorney from purely financial to health and welfare decisions.
He added that the Government hoped to create a Court of Protection, which would have the power to appoint "managers" — who could be social workers — to make one-off decisions on behalf of mentally incapacitated adults. Julian Brazier MP said that the proposals would lead to social workers deciding to withdraw food and fluids from mentally incapacitated patients.
He said: "There are questions to be answered as to whether this could mean a back-door approach to euthanasia.
"You don't want busy, overworked, overstretched social workers making these decisions.
"Allowing discretion to go beyond doctors is a mistake. This whole area needs tightening up not loosening up."
He said that the Government now appeared to have shelved controversial proposals allowing people to draw up "advanced directives" stating how doctors should treat them if they become unable to decide for themselves. The Government outlined the idea in its 1997 Green Paper on mental incapacity, Who Decides?. In his speech to Mencap, Mr Vaz said that the proposal had had "a mixed reception" from the public and professionals. "We are still considering the best way forward on the medical issues raised in Who Decides?," he said.
Dr Peggy Norris, chairwoman of the anti-euthanasia pressure group Alert, said: "The law must apply to everyone. We cannot discriminate against those who can't communicate with us and who are desperately ill. The law must apply to everyone, or eventually it will apply to no one.
"I would fight tooth and nail to preserve the ethic that in justice every person has to be protected.
"This movement is saying that when a human being is not able to look after themselves they should be scrubbed out. That's not a just society. It's not even a civilised one."