By David Alton
Earlier this year the Lord Chancellor’s Department issued a consultation document, ‘Making Decisions: Helping People Who Have Difficulty Deciding For Themselves’. The deadline for submissions has now closed but I would like to share with you some of my concerns regarding the document. It is the latest in a long line of consultation documents that the Government has published preparing the way for comprehensive reform of our mental incapacity legislation.
Consequently, I am gravely concerned that in the consultation document the Government expresses its thanks to the Voluntary Euthanasia Society for “their help in taking this forward” and in a number of the guidance leaflets contained within recommends the reader consult the Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES), particularly with regard to the preparation of ‘living wills’.
When the Lord Chancellor’s Department submits its response to the various submissions received it is important that three specific issues are addressed: –
1. What meetings have been held between ministers and officials and representatives of the VES, and when?
2. How does the Government reconcile their co-operation with the VES with their stated opposition to the legalisation of euthanasia? With the vast array of lawyers and civil servants at the Government’s disposal there is certainly no need for the Government to consult the VES, or others, on any legal matters.
3. Why did the Lord Chancellor’s Department not seek the assistance of organisations opposed to all forms of euthanasia when preparing the Consultation document?
I am extremely concerned that this whole consultation process has been fatally compromised at the outset. The Government has been hand in glove with the pro-euthanasia lobby.
The Consultation Paper assumes throughout that food and fluids, howsoever delivered to patients, are medical treatment that can be withdrawn from patients if to do so would be in the patients’ best interests. The reality is that food and fluids are basic care that should never be withdrawn from patients who are not dying.
The withdrawal of artificially delivered food and fluids from persons in a persistent vegetative state constitutes non-voluntary euthanasia by omission. This particular form of euthanasia has been legalised by stealth through the courts and the Consultation Paper does nothing to correct this. In fact, if the leaflets and guidance set out in the document are approved for public use, this will further enshrine the legalisation of non-voluntary euthanasia in England and Wales. In such circumstances the advisory leaflets should contain clear information on the effects of dehydration and the fact that basic care is deemed not to include the provision of food and fluids.
Parliament has never been given a proper opportunity to debate this vital issue. Before the leaflets and guidance enter the public domain it is crucial that Parliament is given sufficient opportunity to debate the withdrawal of food and fluids from patients who are not dying.
The Government has consistently stated that they have no plans to legalise euthanasia. However, their definition of ‘euthanasia’ appears to exclude non-voluntary euthanasia by omission. If the Government really want to demonstrate their opposition to euthanasia then they would introduce legislation outlawing the withdrawal of assisted food and fluid from patients with the purpose of causing death without delay.