Published: 1st January 1994
Christian Medical Fellowship is interdenominational and has as members well over 4,000 British doctors who are Christians and who desire their professional and personal lives to be governed by the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible. We have members in all branches of the profession and through the International Christian Medical and Dental Association are linked with like-minded colleagues in more than 60 other countries.
We regularly make submissions on ethical matters to governmental and other bodies and indeed made a detailed Submission in 1993 to the Select Committee of the House of Lords on Medical Ethics, opposing euthanasia. This commented on their specific question about Advance Directives, and for brevity we are here summarising those views together with some updating comments.
We want to give our patients the maximum possible involvement in their healthcare, and therefore accept that Advance Directives can be of some help in indicating patients' wishes. However, we continue to agree with the BMA's 1993 view  that they should not be legally binding, for reasons set out below.
We acknowledge that case law so far confirms that 'when an individual signs an advance directive at common law it is legally binding' and understand therefore why the BMA Council in 1994 decided  'that it was impractical to continue to oppose specific legislation'. However, we are concerned that dropping this formal opposition should not lead to an uncritical acceptance of Advance Directives and we urge the greatest caution in the construction of a code of practice.
Our concerns about Advance Directives may be summarised in two areas:
Like the BMA, we oppose euthanasia. Lord Allen's Bill  to legalise Advance Directives, no longer before Parliament, was sponsored by the Voluntary Euthanasia Society whose own Advance Directive  states 'that any distressing symptoms (including any caused by lack of food or fluid) are to be fully controlled by appropriate analgesic or other treatment, even though that treatment may shorten my life'.
Legal powers were being sought to starve and dehydrate people to death. If these powers were ever obtained. it would not be long before it was argued that this was not 'compassionate' and that a lethal injection should rather be given as soon as the decision was taken.
In our Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee we questioned the real motive of Lord Allen's Bill, and we continue to question the real motive of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society where Advance Directives are concerned.
Nothing has happened since 1993 to make us change our minds about the wisdom of legally binding Advance Directives. In fact, more evidence is accumulating that they are unsatisfactory in principle and in practice. Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer, editors of the respected journal Bioethics, comment philosophically  on a paper by Savulescu  that 'past preferences are not necessarily a true expression of a person's autonomy', and Stone  argues from cases in the USA that 'signing a living will can end your life in ways that you never intended, long before you are either incompetent or terminally ill'.
We urge the Working Party to ensure that any code of practice for Advance Directives specifically excludes 'starve and dehydrate me to death' clauses, and is worded most carefully to avoid the pitfalls mentioned. We are not convinced this can be done.
Philippa Taylor (CMF Head of Public Policy) 020 7234 9664
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 4,000 British doctor members in all branches of medicine. A registered charity, it is linked to about 65 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.
CMF exists to unite Christian doctors to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.