British Parliament Holds Furious Debate Over Bill Legalizing Euthanasia

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 14, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Parliament Holds Furious Debate Over Bill Legalizing Euthanasia Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 14, 2004

London, England ( — The British parliament debated a bill that would legalize euthanasia and the fight over it was quite contentious. The turmoil ended with the British legislative body approving the bill and the British government offering concessions to pro-life members of parliament who opposed it.

Pro-life MPs opposed the Mental Capacity Bill because it would allow doctors to withhold lifesaving medical treatment from terminally ill patients who request it. However, British officials promised concerned MPs that the bill will be amended to prevent that.

That set off another fracas with MPs favoring the bill upset that government officials did not let them know a compromise deal had been struck.

The bill would also allow someone to create a living will that gives a loved one power of attorney to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person.

Pro-life groups opposed the bill saying it would allow euthanasia by omission by allowing doctors to remove needed medical treatments.

That point was driven home by Labour MP Brian Iddon, who the BBC reports saying, "If people don’t believe that the people who are pushing living wills are not going to push assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia then they are living in cloud cuckoo land."

Former Conservative Leader Iain Duncan Smith agreed and warned fellow MPs that people who make a decision in a living will could change their mind by the time they become incapacitated.

Smith put forward an amendment to prevent doctors from causing a patient’s death, but it was defeated on a 297 to 203 vote.

However, 34 Labor Party MPs defied a request by Prime Minister Tony Blair to vote against the amendment and Smith said another 100 MPs abstained from the vote. Their opposition could swing the view of the Parliament the other direction.

The bill was later approved 354-188 after it was disclosed that a British official had written a letter to a leading Catholic Church representative saying the bill would be amended in the House of Lords to ensure that doctors could not end the life of a patient.