BY SIMON CALDWELL
CATHOLIC politicians have accused the Government of seeking to legalise “euthanasia by omission”.
During the debate in the Second Reading of the Mental Capacity Bill on Monday they criticised New Labour for seeking to enshrine in statute law the Bland Judgment of 1993, a legal decision by the Law Lords which redefined food and fluid as “medical treatment” so doctors could starve mentallyincapacitated Hillsborough victim Tony Bland to death.
Leading the attacks was the former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who told the House of Commons that the “issue of euthanasia lies at the heart of the Bill”. He was followed by Catholic Conservatives Ann Widdecombe and David Amess and by Catholic Labour MPJim Dobbin, the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group.
Another member of the prolife group, Ann Winterton, Tory MPfor Congleton, said: “I warn the House that we are dealing with an ultra-cynical lobby, which will not stop with the Mental Capacity Bill. “It will see the Bill as an opening of the door to legalised euthanasia by commission. If we are to retain the smallest vestige of respect for human life, we must not allow the Bill to pass without radical amendments to prevent the introduction through the back door of euthanasia by omission.” Edward Leigh, the Conservative MPfor Gainsborough, and a Catholic, said: “Nobody knows what was going on in the mind of Dr Shipman. Everybody assumes that he was evil, but perhaps he felt that he was assisting elderly people out of their misery. We do not know. But the point remains that it will be legal to do such things.” Government Ministers denied that the proposals sanctioned euthanasia, arguing that such concerns were misplaced. However, they refuse to accept that the withdrawal of food and fluids constitutes euthanasia.
After a debate lasting almost seven hours, MPs voted by 326 votes to 62 to allow the Bill to pass to its Third Reading. But some euthanasia opponents abstained from the vote and others voted in favour of the Bill in order to improve their chances of gaining a place on the Standing Committee that will scrutinise it. Both groups are seeking to introduce amendments at a later stage to counter parts that sanction euthanasia.
Among them was Claire Curtis-Thomas, Labour MPfor Crosby and a Catholic, who spoke movingly of how her mother was left severely paralysed by a stroke but who later managed to communicate her desire to live .
She said: “We must not take decisions away from people who cannot speak and presume that because they cannot speak we know better. We do not know better. I will not support the Bill today, I will abstain. I want to see whether some of the amendments that the prolife group are eager to promote will be accepted. If they are, and if I can read them knowing that people like my mother are protected and have the quality of life that they have a right to, I will be able to support the Bill on Third Reading. If not, I do not intend to let down my mother or the thousands of people in this country who are in the position that she was.” The Catholic Church is also seeking a number of “vital” amendments to the Bill.