BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Friday, 14 April, 2000, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Euthanasia Bill blocked
Intensive care
Bill would force doctors not to withhold food
An attempt to tighten up the controls on euthanasia has been blocked by MPs.

The Medical Treatment (Prevention of Euthanasia) Bill now stands virtually no chance of becoming law.

Tory MP Ann Winterton, who piloted the bill, had argued her measure would prevent introduction of euthanasia by the back door.

But doctors have expressed concerns that the proposals were too draconian and would lead to more prosecutions of medical staff.

Tony Bland
The bill was partly inspired by the case of Tony Bland
The Bill would outlaw the withdrawal or withholding of medical treatment, food or drink from a patient with the intention of causing or hastening the death of the patient.

It was partly inspired by the case of Tony Bland, who was injured in the Hillsborough football disaster in 1989 and left in a persistent vegetative state.

He then became the subject of a lengthy legal battle before his feeding tube was removed and he was allowed to die in 1993.

Mrs Winterton said on Friday: "The simple purpose of this Bill is to restore the integrity of the law to pre-1993 so it is unlawful for a doctor to have the purpose to kill a patient by an act of omission."

She insisted that, under the Bill, a patient's right to refuse treatment would remain exactly as it was at present.

However, during a Commons debate on the bill on Friday MPs warned that leading health groups had serious concerns about its content.

These included the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, Age Concern and the Alzheimer's Society.

Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper opposes the bill
Several MPs demanded safeguards to prevent doctors falling victim to "vexatious" litigation by patients' relatives, who might act irrationally through grief.

Labour's Andrew Dismore (Hendon) demanded that the Director of Public Prosecutions give his consent before relatives were allowed to pursue a legal case against medical staff.

Warning of the dire effect on a doctor if he or she was not protected in this way, he said: "His or her career could be completely blighted by a prosecution even if that prosecution proved to be unsuccessful."

Liberal democrat MP Dr Peter Brand (Isle of Wight), a former GP, is under police investigation after admitting during the last Commons debate on the Bill that he had withheld treatment from a two-year-old boy with leukaemia on the request of the child's parents.

He told the Commons said the investigation was prompted by complaints from one particular woman who had "badgered" police into taking action - thus illustrating the need for a screening procedure to protect doctors.

Public Health Minister Yvette Cooper told the Commons the current law already outlawed the withholding or withdrawal of treatment, and that the Bill would achieve nothing.

She also underlined the Government's "complete and continued" opposition to euthanasia.

Dr Liam Fox, for the Opposition, said he regretted that the opponents of the measure were likely to "kill the Bill".

"Euthanasia is immoral, unethical and unacceptable even where patients have given their consent," he said.

The Bill ran out of time for debate. It now goes back into the long queue of backbench Bills for debate and stands very little chance of becoming law.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories