The government claims to be opposed to euthanasia. But the evidence, particularly the
Mental Incapacity Bill, reveals New Labour's real intentions , says Anthony Ozimic In October 1999, the Government published its proposals to reform the law on mental incapacity, which have now been enshrined in its draft Mental Incapacity Bill. At that time it stated that "the Government wishes to make absolutely clear its complete opposition to euthanasia which is, and will remain illegal".
It is important to note that the government's definition of euthanasia is restricted to "a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life." Note in contrast Pope John Paul Il's words in Evangelium Vitae: "For a correct moral judgment on euthanasia, in the first place a clear definition is required. Euthanasia in the strict sense is understood to be an action or omission (my italics) which of itself and by intention causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering.".
If the Government was genuine in its opposition to euthanasia, it would recognise that the deliberate omission of tube-feeding to patients is euthanasia and it would ensure that the practice was outlawed. However, as well as the Government's flawed definition of euthanasia, a subtle but significant change has occurred in the language of the Government's denial of a euthanasia agenda.
Government Minister (and Catholic) Baroness Scotland claimed in Parliament last December that "[The Government is] determined that our proposals should not lead the way — through the back or any other door —to euthanasia. The noble Baroness (Baroness Finlay of Llandaff) may be confident that that is not our intent".
When it was claimed that the Government was opposed to Lord Joffe's Bill to legalise assisted suicide, government minister Baroness Andrews was quick to correct this claim, saying that the government has adopted a "neutral" position on the Bill.
In a parliamentary answer last month, Government Minister Rosie Winterton said: "The question of whether or not to legalise euthanasia was considered in great detail by the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, reporting in 1994. The Committee concluded that the practice of euthanasia could not be supported, partly because of the difficulties in setting secure limits on voluntary euthanasia and also because of concerns that vulnerable people might feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death. The Government's position has been that it shares the views of the committee, that any proposal to change the law in this area would need to be considered very carefully and that we have no plans to change the current law."
What can be observed from Ms Winterton's answer is that the government clearly has no ethical objection to euthanasia based on the sanctity of human life. What can also be observed from these four government statements is that the promise in October 1999 never to legalise euthanasia softened by December 2002 into a denial of "intent" to legalise euthanasia, and has now softened further into caution and a denial of any "plans" to legalise euthanasia.
The Government has conveniently ignored the fact that the pro-euthanasia agenda for the withholding and withdrawing of assisted food and fluids from patients — "passive" euthanasia — is inextricably linked with the agenda for lethal injections — "active" euthanasia.
Euthanasia advocates have long suggested that lethal injections should be preferred to starvation and dehydration. As long ago as 1984, pro-euthanasia bioethicist Dr Helgha Kuhse said: "If we can get people to accept the removal of all treatment and care — especially the removal of food and fluids — they will see what a painful way this is to die and then, in the patient's best interests, they will accept the lethal injection". It is no surprise that the pro-euthanasia Hemlock Society of Colorado (now euphemistically renamed "End-Of-Life Choices") endorses death through starvation as a form of euthanasia.
The Government's link with the euthanasia agenda was made particularly clear in a consultation it conducted last year on advice leaflets for decision-making regarding the mentally incapacitated. One of the leaflets referred readers to the Volun tary Euthanasia Society (VES) for information on "living wills" and advance directives, despite the fact that such advice is available from other organisations which do not advocate euthanasia.
However, although the agenda for "passive" euthanasia is inextricably linked with the agenda for "active" euthanasia, in Britain the more immediate and probable danger is the former, the latter route having been blocked for the time being by the defeat of the late Diane Pretty's case and the delay of Lord Joffe's Bill. That does not mean that we must not continue to fight against the agenda for lethal injections: disturbingly, the limited findings of a small internet poll conducted earlier this year suggested that 25 per cent of British doctors agree with assisted suicide and 22 per cent agree with euthanasia. However, the cruelty of mass euthanasia by starvation and dehydration would almost certainly lead to pressure for what is euphemistically called "terminal sedation" — lethal injections under the guise of palliative care. We must focus on first denying the euthanasia lobby the fertile ground of "passive" euthanasia found in the Government's Mental Incapacity Bill on which it could wage a renewed battle for "active euthanasia".
The Government's Mental Incapacity Bill applies to any adult who is mentally incapacitated and will therefore affect every single person in this country, because everyone is vulnerable to accidents or illnesses that may cause mental incapacity. The Bill's radical proposals include using a system of living wills and unqualified, unaccountable attorneys to force doctors to kill by withdrawing life-sustaining treatment and care. If passed, the Bill will be the first comprehensive law in the world allowing euthanasia by neglect and may become a model for all common-law countries.
The message for British Catholics is clear: legalised euthanasia — both "passive" and "active" — is coming to Britain unless we obstruct the Mental Incapacity Bill. A joint committee to consider the draft bill has called for written evidence to be submitted to it by 1st September. SPUC urges Catholics and nonCatholics alike to contact us on 020 7222 5845 to request an information pack on our campaign against the Bill.
Anthony Ozimic is the political secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.