Right to Die Approved; but Critics Call Irvine's 'Living Wills' a Step towards Euthanasia

Article excerpt

Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY

THE Government yesterday approved 'living wills' despite fears critics that the move will let in euthanasia by the back door.

A report from the Lord Chancellor 'respects the right' of people to draw legal instructions for doctors, allowing treatment to be stopped if they become chronically sick or injured, even if it leads to their death.

It also opened the way for a new law of 'continuing power of attorney', which would allow a dying person to nominate someone to hold the power of life and death over them when they could no longer take decisions for themselves.

Lord Irvine's report insisted that living wills do not amount to euthanasia, adding: 'The Government wishes to make absolutely clear its complete opposition to euthanasia, which is and will remain illegal.' He promised safeguards to prevent abuse of the new power of attorney. However, opponents believe this measure could be abused by the unscrupulous to cheat their way into the money and property of the old or vulnerable.

They also warned that doctors would be forced by law to kill off an incapacitated patient on the instructions of a nominated attorney.

Hugh McKinney, of the Conservative Family Campaign, said: 'This is euthanasia now. It is outrageous to say that allowing a patient to die is in their best interests. It is a charter for killing off the old, the infirm and the vulnerable.' Jamie Bogle, a barrister specialising in medical cases, said: 'Doctors who refuse to murder somebody will find themselves guilty of assault.

'There will be an absurd situation in which a doctor who refuses to kill a patient by denying them food and fluid is committing a crime.' Phyllis Bowman, of the Right to Live organisation, said the legal precedents cited yesterday by Lord Irvine were 'questionable'.

She said: 'Sleight of hand is the best description of the manner in which they are trying to consolidate a practice of euthanasia, allowing the withdrawal of assisted food and fluid from patients who are not dying.

'Continuing powers of attorney essentially mean that people can find a legal way to get their nearest and dearest bumped off.

'The very concept that other people can decide whether or not one would wish to live in any given circumstances is a clear indication of how dangerous the acceptance of living wills can be. …