by Murray White
THE requirement of prior "approval" by a Judge before food and water is withdrawn from coma patients could soon be dropped, a leading Oxford academic warned this week.
As Parliament prepares to reopen debate on the legalisation of euthanasia, Law Professor John Finnis of University College, Oxford, made a strong attack on the recent judgements which allowed doctors to let coma patient Tony Bland die by removing his feeding tubes. He said the rulings were littered with "a dualistic assumption that there can be a living human being who is not a person or has no personal human life. This is philosophically indefensible".
Addressing a one day conference on implications of the Bland case at the House of Lords on Tuesday, Professor Finnis said that the Law Lords had confused the idea of "being in an undignified position with suffering an indignity. This has the absurd implication that the nurses who devotedly cared for Tony Bland were humiliating and demeaning him".
It was inconsistent with the Rule of Law to give so much weight to medical opinion, Professor Finnis told the conference, which was sponsored by Lord Ashboume and organised by anti-euthanasia lobby group Alert.
He felt that an alternative which would have more legal authority was to ensure that "people who have a duty to care for someone may never exercise that duty m a manner intended to bring about the death of the person in their care".
More than 800 British doctors have signed a petition they would never deliberately end the life of a patient. If Advance Directives were given legal force, the signatories said they would refuse to cause death by starvation or dehydration, or ask a colleague to carry out such a practice, Catholic Doctor Peggy Norris told the conference.
Recalling the British Medical Association motto of "First Do No Harm", Dr Norris; Chairman of Alert, a cross-party, cross-faith body, said that as a result of the Bland ruling, "the Hippocratic ethic the foundation of Western Medicine is now being ignored; being brushed aside to permit the removal of the aged and the infirm, and those like the old soldiers who do not die but take too long to fade away."
Dr Norris said that a ten-minute rule bill to ease restrictions on mercy killing, to be presented by Labour MP Piara Khavra next week, was unlikely to make progress. But she warned that the current House of Lords inquiry into euthanasia could pave the way for more substantial Government legislation.