British Govt. Supports Euthanasia of Mentally Handicapped

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 17, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Govt. Supports Euthanasia of Mentally Handicapped

by Paul Nowak Staff Writer
November 17, 2003

London, England ( — While the current British government says it opposes euthanasia, it supports coming legislation that would legalize passive euthanasia, or euthanasia "by neglect" on mentally incapacitated adults. 

A draft of the Mental Incapacity Bill is being prepared for presentation to Parliament. An attempt to clarify difficult medical and financial decisions for those unable to do so themselves as a result of illness or accident, it opens the door to starvation and dehydration of those suffering from dementia, stroke or traumatic brain injury, as well as other illnesses. 

If passed, the Mental Incapacity Bill would e the first comprehensive law in the world to allow "euthanasia by neglect," and could require the denial of treatment to patients not in danger of death, and would force doctors and other health professionals to assist in the starvation or negligent death of those in their care.

Because the legislation defines medical ‘treatment’ as "includ[ing] a diagnostic or other procedure," decisions including tube-feeding, giving sedatives or pain-killers, and possibly spoon-feeding and turning immobile bed-bound patients, could be up to a government-appointed guardian, prior suicidal decisions by the patient, or anyone with "lasting powers of attorney."

As the decision could be made by one’s spouse or government official it has the likelihood of creating situations like Terri Schiavo’s, in which her husband has been trying to have her feeding tube removed in order to starve her to death.

The legislation would also place the "wishes and feelings" of the patient, even suicidal ones, above their medical needs and best interests.

"On Nov. 26, the government might put the draft Mental Incapacity Bill in the Queen’s Speech, which announces what Bills the government plans for new legislation during the coming year," said the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) in a statement to its members and supporters. "If the Bill is in the Queen’s Speech, legalized euthanasia by neglect is a step closer." 

Scottish and Northern Ireland MPs will be allowed to vote on the bill, although it will only apply to England and Wales.

The bill has been gathering opposition from lawyers, doctors, and human rights groups. 

Richard Gordon, a leading human rights lawyer, has concluded that the bill is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Dr. Philip Howard, a senior lecturer in medicine in London and consultant physician, has predicted that doctors and nurses will be criminalized or forced to leave their profession if they attempt to save the lives of suicidal patients.

"If the Mental Incapacity Bill becomes a new law it will be a very big step backwards for people with learning difficulties’ rights," said People First, a learning disability group.

"The Bill will affect every single person in this country," warned SPUC. "Everyone is vulnerable to accidents or illnesses that may cause mental incapacity."

Related web sites:
Society for the Protection of Unborn Children —