BY SIMON CALDWELL
THE CAI 11OLIC Church has joined forces with Britain's pro-life groups to urge the public to help to halt renewed efforts to legalise euthanasia.
The Linacre Centre, the internationally-respected bio.ethics institute of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said Catholics throughout the land should write to MPs and peers to ask them to oppose Lord Joffe's Assisted Dying Bill, which last week received its First Reading in the House of Lords.
Dr Helen Watt, the director of the London-based centre, said Catholics should also make an extra effort to support an anti-euthanasia Bill which will receive its Second Reading in the Lords on Wednesday, March 12.
The Bill was presented by Tory peer Dame Jill Knight and seeks to outlaw the practice of "euthanasia by omission" in NHS hospitals where, since 1993, dozens of incapacitated patients have been starved and dehydrated to death.
Dr Watt also condemned the move by the Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust in London to invite patients to draw up "living wills" to specify the circumstances under which they would want treatment, including nutrition, to be stopped. "Doctors shouldn't be overtreating patients whether or not they have signed a living will," she said. "Some living wills are suicidally motivated, or they may involve the refusal of tube feeding, which is basic care."
Her call to arms was supported by such groups as Alert. Right to Life, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, Medical Ethics Alliance and SOSNHS Patients in Danger.
"The present government is getting away with murder because the Opposition is doing nothing," said Phyllis Bowman, executive director of Right to Life. "We need to hit at the Conservative Party because it has always claimed to have an official policy against euthanasia," Anthony Ozimic of SPUC agreed that Lady Knight's Bill would not progress without the support of the Tory front bench.
He said: "It is important the the Opposition holds the Government to its claim to be opposed to euthanasia and to highlight the fact that its definition of euthanasia is inadequate because it only covers `euthanasia by commission' ."
Lord Joffe, a crossbench peer ennobled by Prime Minister Tony Blair, intro
duced his Private Member's Bill with the support of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. A date for the Second Reading has yet to be set.
Lord Joffe said: "The issue has been debated at length in the media and every poll in the last decade shows over 80 per cent public support in favour of changing the law. The debate must now be brought before Parliament."
Cohn Hone, a spokesman for Alert and a carer of a disabled person, said: "Lord Joffe's Bill will increase the fears of those with terminal or serious incurable illnesses, who rightly see euthanasia as a sign that they are viewed as having lives worth less than others.
He said the proposed safeguards in the Bill were "deceptive". He said: "The Bill would in fact remove the safeguards against harm that the law already provides for vulnerable people."
Alert also argued that the only choice involved in living wills was to refuse the best care, not to demand it.
Lord Joffe, a lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela in the 1963 Rivonia trial, is a Labour Party member who gave the Government £10,000 at the last General' Election.
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