Published: 14th December 2004
The Mental Capacity Bill, which begins its report stage in the House of Commons today [14 December] is loosely drafted and in its present form leaves open a door whereby some mentally incapacitated patients could be starved, dehydrated and left to die, the Christian Medical Fellowship and Lawyers' Christian Fellowship have warned today.
Peter Saunders, General Secretary of the CMF, which represents over 4,500 UK Christian doctors, said; “The Bill gives statutory force to 'advance refusals' and 'proxy decisions', meaning that doctors will be legally required to withhold food and fluids in some situations where they believe such action clinically inappropriate. CMF believes that advance refusals should be only advisory, not legally binding, or they could force doctors to practise with a hand tied behind their backs.”
Saunders continued, “Clinical circumstances exist where it is entirely appropriate to withhold food and fluids: when their burden outweighs any benefit to life or health, or when they confer no clinical benefit for example, but this should never be on a long term basis as it will inevitably lead to the death of the patient.”
“CMF is concerned that patients will make unwise and hasty advance decisions to refuse food and fluids without being properly informed about the diagnosis and the expected course their illness will take or the treatment and palliative care options. It is too easy for patients to be driven by fears of meddlesome treatment and 'being kept alive', into making advance decisions that later might be used against them.
“Commonly patients change their minds about what care they would like, as their condition changes, and for this reason advance decisions must be kept constantly under review. It is also noteworthy that the majority of patients who make advance refusals actually prefer doctors to override those which they feel prejudice their care.
Andrea Williams, Head of Public Policy for the LCF representing 1,500 lawyers added, “The Mental Capacity Bill leaves far too many loopholes that could be abused by unscrupulous doctors and other health professionals or those with an interest - financial or otherwise - in the patient's death. Other doctors may feel pressure to abide by advance refusals, against their better judgement, in order to avoid the possibility of prosecution”
“Advance refusals of food and fluids should not be legally binding nor should food and fluids be withdrawn without strong clinical indication. Mentally incapacitated patients should not be experimented on when the research provides no clinical benefit to them. Several key amendments  enacting these provisions are needed to tighten up the bill and alleviate the legitimate concerns raised by CMF and LCF, but the Government has so far been reluctant to listen”, Williams commented.
Both concluded; “It would be a great tragedy if the Government used its large majority to force through this Bill without a proper opportunity for MPs to hear the arguments for themselves and debate appropriate amendments. If this happened we might look back and see this as the moment when euthanasia entered the UK by the back door.'
1. To sections on best interests, advance decisions and experimentation
Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668
Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225
Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.
CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.