Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Incapacity Bill Written Evidence

89.Memorandum from the Reverend Patrick Tansey (MIB 130)


  First, I should like to state my concern that this Bill, which has good points, is being discussed so rapidly and with a closure date for submissions being set for 1 September of this year. I should be most grateful to know why the haste, especially during the holiday period? I have only recently returned from mine!

  For some time I have been following the issues dealt with in this Bill, especially, in my last parish, with the assistance of Dr Julian Lewis MP. In spite of numerous letters to the Lord Chancellor's Office, he was unable to receive any clear statement on matters related to Euthanasia by Omission, namely the withdrawal of food and fluid from mentally incapacitated patients with the purpose of ensuring death. As you will realise, this is totally separate from the question of the withdrawal of food and fluid if distress is being caused to the patient.

  It is, therefore, essential that any proposed legislation include a clause making illegal the withdrawal of food and fluid with the purpose of causing death. Such a clause would not prevent the withdrawal of food and fluid in the case of distress, if clearly framed.

  As one who has been a chaplain to a centre for learning disabilities for several years, I feel that definition of the patient's best interests in any legislation needs to be clear. My understanding is that the present wording is so vague in the area of medical criteria that the best interests of the vulnerable in relation to medical care are not adequately safeguarded.

  There is also, I believe, a need for some clear appeal system in relation to Lasting Powers of Attorney, where a dispute concerning questionable medical treatment arises. This is one reason why this Bill deserves a more considered approach than it appears Government is giving it.

  I recall Dr Lewis asking in one letter if, following a road accident, a doctor would be obliged, as the result of a "Living Will", not to give normally accepted medical help to an injured person in a serious condition. The question was not answered.

  The whole legal status of "Living Wills" demands clear definition in any legislation, and a House of Lords Select Committee has warned of the use of Statute Law in this area. This area needs to be considered most carefully.

  You will realise that I have grave concerns in relation to aspects of a Bill which could be of great value, but could also create a legal and moral nightmare for lawyers and medical personnel—to say nothing of family and friends of the incapacitated person!

August 2003

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