Phyllis Bowman on the growing power of the death lobby

It is all of 20 years since the International Euthanasia Movement agreed at a world conference that the most likely way for them to achieve success would be through changing the meaning of the ‘withdrawal of treatment’.

At the meeting it was suggested that groups should work for the withdrawal of assisted food and fluid (tube feeding). This had always being defined as basic care. They must now work, it was agreed at the conference, to have it defined as ‘treatment’ which could be withdrawn. As there is only one possible result from withdrawing food and fluid from anybody – that is death by dehydration and starvation. It meant that by using the definition of treatment (instead of care), they could introduce euthanasia by omission …and they succeeded!

In 1992 the BMA Ethics Committee (which included a number of euthanasia activists) produced a report recommending that it should be legal to withdraw food and fluid from patients in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS). That same year the Bland case came before the Courts which ruled that it would be legal to withdraw assisted food and fluid from PVS patient, Mr Tony Bland (a young football fan injured in the Hillsborough disaster), thus bringing about his death. The BMA report was quoted persistently throughout the case by both counsel calling for an end to Mr Bland’s life and by the judges in their summaries.

The next phase came in the House of Lords when a Select Committee was established to consider the issue of voluntary euthanasia following the Bland Judgment. The Select Committee included a number of members who were certainly not opposed to euthanasia. For example, the Baroness Warnock had already contributed several papers to American philosophical journals in which she called for the legalization of euthanasia. Another was Baroness Jay who was known to be at least ambivalent on the issue.

However, they were out-manoeuvered. The euthanasia lobby persistently called for a law following the Dutch example and pro-lifers on the Select Committee ensured that when they visited Holland, they met doctors with information showing that the euthanasia law was being flagrantly abused. The result was that the Select Committee produced a Report opposing the legalization of euthanasia. They made it clear that it would be impossible to set safe bounds on the practice if legalized.

The next challenge followed in 1996, less than a year after the House of Lords’ Select Committee Report was published. It was then that the Law Commission came to the fore, producing the Mental Incapacity Report. Although they claimed to oppose euthanasia, they recommended it should be made legal to withdraw food and fluid from non-dying patients. Although the Report was very carefully worded, it was clear that the aim was to end patients’ lives.

For all the fact that Prime Minister, John Major, was not pro-life, he scrupulously abided by his Party’s policy which opposed euthanasia by omission and euthanasia by commission. Jonathan Evans MP who was Parliamentary Secretary to the Lord Chancellor’s Department at the time made a statement on the floor of the House that his Government would not legislate on the basis of the Law Commission’s proposals ‘in their present form’, making it clear that these could weaken our current laws against euthanasia.

In his statement, Mr Evans said that the Government intended to set up full public consultation before producing a Bill – a development which finally came to fruition, under the title ‘Making Decisions’ after the Labour Government came to power in 1997.

However, their ‘consultations’ virtually ignored any submissions from pro-life groups and others who opposed euthanasia by omission. Instead, they actually thanked the Voluntary Euthanasia Society for their advice and help!

Not surprisingly therefore the recommendations included the withdrawal of tube feeding for non-dying patients – which they described as ‘artificial food and fluid’. The original recommendations were horrendous. Advance Directives calling for the withdrawal of treatment were already ‘legally binding’, according to the Report. However, advance directives requiring treatment could be lawfully ignored by doctors and others. Whereas one can understand this in the case of kidney transplants, for example, the fact is that the Report made it quite clear that ‘treatment’ included basic care such as assisted food and fluid.

Indeed, according to the Report, such treatment could be withdrawn from patients regardless of the views of families, partners and, indeed, advance directives made by patients themselves. Quite obviously this amounted to involuntary euthanasia by omission regardless of the views of families, partners, or patients.

A solid fight on this by pro-life parliamentarians and pro-life groups resulted in the Lord Chancellor’s office back-pedalling. The Draft Mental Incapacity Bill (2003) now makes it quite clear that people with Powers of Attorney and next of kin are entitled to take a stand. Nonetheless, the Bill still allows the withdrawal of food and fluid from non-dying patients with the purpose of causing death.

One of the problems facing those fighting against euthanasia is that the prime objective of Making Decisions and the Draft Mental Incapacity Bill has been to introduce much needed reforms covering the financial and welfare problems of mentally incapacitated patients. However, the fact is that both the Lord Chancellor’s Office and the Department of Health are riddled with pro-euthanasia officials who have used the Bill as a vehicle to introduce euthanasia by omission.

Well over thirty welfare charities dealing with mentally incapacitated people back the introduction of the Bill and many have accepted the Government’s line defining the withdrawal of assisted food and fluid as the withdrawal of ‘treatment’.

It is ludicrous simply to oppose the entire Bill. It has the backing of the three main political parties as well as the vast majority of charities involved. It is, therefore, essential that we concentrate our fire on opposing those clauses in the Bill which would introduce euthanasia through the back door.

As Jim Dobbin, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group has stated: ‘It is inhuman to pretend that many difficulties and hardships are not being caused by the present situation and the All Party Pro-life Group is committed to seeing that a Bill is ultimately presented that would rectify the situation. To do otherwise is to play straight into the hands of the euthanasia lobby, which uses hardship, pain and sorrow to justify euthanasia.’

It is, therefore, essential that New Directions readers support the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group in their battle to delete the euthanasia clauses. You can write to your MPs protesting that the Bill should concentrate on the general welfare and financial needs of patients rather than the Government allowing it to be used as vehicle to introduce euthanasia through the back door. You should also write to Michael Howard as Leader of the Conservative Party reminding him of the Conservative policy opposing both euthanasia by omission and euthanasia by commission. Ask why they have done nothing to oppose those sections of the Draft Mental Incapacity Bill which would legalize euthanasia through the back door.

In all justice to the euthanasia lobby, they have certainly worked far more diligently as individuals in promoting their cause than have Christians in opposing euthanasia.

If you have never written to MPs before calling for action, it is time to do so now.

Lord Filkin, the Minister responsible for the Bill, seems to think that he can overcome any problems simply by announcing that the Bill is not ‘about euthanasia’. However, altering the name on a package does not alter the contents! Make sure that your MP as well as Lord Filkin knows that you see through this ploy.

ACT NOW! Full information on the Mental Incapacity Bill can be obtained from Right to Life, P.O. Box 26264, London W3 9SQ. Tel No: 020 8992