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Last Updated: Friday, 17 December, 2004, 11:15 GMT
Should "living wills" be allowed?

The Prime Minister has defended the government's legislation on living wills, saying it was vital to end confusion and protect doctors.

Ministers said the Mental Capacity Bill merely clarifies an existing system, known as "living wills", which allows people to decide in advance that they don't want medical treatment if they become very ill.

But cross-party critics of the bill have forced the government to concede that they will change the wording of the new bill so that it will not allow decisions aimed at killing.

Should "living wills" be allowed? Will the Mental Capacity Bill provide sufficient safeguards? Are you concerned that it could legalise euthanasia?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of comments received so far.

No government nor medical staff should be allowed to deny me the inherent freedom I already have to decide that I will refuse treatment. Whose body is this anyway? I also have the right to sign an affidavit giving my wife the right to follow my wishes should I be unable to communicate them at the time.
Sky McCain, Hartland, UK

I believe that anyone has the right to choose to die. The difficulty is ensuring that their wishes are carried out when they are too ill to communicate. They need someone they can trust to do this. That's where a living will can help.
John Pengilly, London, UK

Does a person who wishes to die have the right to involve others in that act?
Carole, Manchester, UK
The problem as I see it is not should a person commit suicide if they so wish, but does a person who wishes to die have the right to involve others in that act. Whether it is relatives involved in a mercy killing, or medical professionals being asked to involve themselves in administering the coup de grace, the issue is the effect it has on them. Because by taking an active part in the process, the responsibility hence rests on them. And I do not think it is fair to ask medical professionals or relatives to put themselves in such a position. There is a difference between heavy use of medication to alleviate suffering, which as a side-effect may hasten death, and administering death - the intent is clearly different.
Carole, Manchester, UK

No, living wills should not be allowed, since it prevents a doctor doing her or his job to save a life. It also pressurises old people and the infirm to perhaps decide to ask to be killed out of possible financial, and physical consequences of them living on their families because they "don't want to be a burden".
Anon, Louth

This bill is typical of the way the Government mixes bad legislation with good legislation. The flaws endanger people and should be changed. If David Lammy and the Making Decisions Alliance is "against euthanasia", why do they have a problem with eradicating the flaws in the bill that make it unclear? Surely clarity is vital?
Mary, London

To Anon, Taoist. I believe that God has the right to give, and take life alone. I don't think that this conflicts with your belief as I agree with this plan. This does not give the right to kill yourself, but removes the obligation to be kept alive artificially - which I agree with.
Tony Humphreys, UK

It is not about ending a person's life early.
Kate, Redruth, UK
In the US living wills and power of attorneys are encouraged. These documents do not come into effect unless the patient's doctor determines the patient incapacitated. It is not about ending a person's life early, it is about the patient being able to make the choice to refuse a treatment such as resuscitation from a heart attack if they have a terminal cancer. Many major US hospitals now have palliative care teams whereby doctors, nurses, social workers and clergy work together with the patient and their family as a team. It allows the patient the right to dignity, control and pain management in their final days.
Kate, Redruth, UK

I say no to euthanasia and no to Mental Capacity Bill. There's no need for anyone to die in pain these days. Palliative medicine makes this possible. Euthanasia by neglect is a lonely, distressing end to a life. To die naturally, free from pain is the dignified option.
Antonia Tully, Purley, Surrey

I have two members of my family dying from cancer. Mum and Uncle, both feel that we all know we are dying what they object to is someone telling them when. They wish the choice to avoid the pain and distress. They want to say goodbye and leave life when they are ready.
Vivienne Brooks, Winchester

I believe living wills should be allowed. At the end of the day it's a bit similar to the decision of donating organs when you die. No one else can make this decision for you, it's very personal and so you have the choice. I wouldn't want anyone else but me to decide what to do with my body - when I'm not in a situation where I can make this choice, and so we all have to decide before anything happens to us. And even if the law about the living wills is approved, well you still have the choice not to make a will anyway, so everyone wins
Vanessa, London

I can only assume that anyone who opposes the idea of a "living will" has never witnessed a beloved relative die a prolonged, distressing and painful death. Watching my mother die of cancer, struggling to breathe and unable to communicate her pain, will haunt me for the rest of my life.
Catherine, Glasgow

I am concerned that patients will make unwise and hasty advance decisions to refuse food and fluids without being properly informed about the diagnosis and the expected course their illness will take or the treatment and palliative care options. It is too easy for patients to be driven by fears of meddlesome treatment and żbeing kept alive', into making advance decisions that later might be used against them.
E Hogarth, Leatherhead, UK

Yet another step in the destruction of the Hippocratic oath. If this bill is passed, how long before the UK's doctors will be legally required to break their oaths - "I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel."
BF, London, UK

Living wills are very common in the USA. Hospitals actually encourage each patient to complete them before major surgery. They uncomplicated issues that may be painful for relatives.
Danny, Cleveland, USA

Although some clarification is needed for the treatment of supposedly terminally ill patients, I am gravely concerned that this bill, as presently drafted, will be the 'back door' to the legalisation of euthanasia.
Peter Ginns, Cheltenham, England

People should have a say in what happens to them
Jan, Southampton, UK
I have been a nurse for many years and seen patients being kept alive with no hope of recovery and just prolonging the agony before eventual death. I do not feel in many cases that this is a dignified death at all. Many of these patients ask to die but we cannot let them. This has always upset me as if I were in that position, I would like to have a say in why I was being kept alive just for the sake of it. As part of the medical profession, it is our duty to make sure that the patient is comfortable and pain free until death but this is not always possible. I am not advocating active euthanasia but think people should have a say in what happens to them.
Jan, Southampton, UK

There's a difference between euthanasia and simply not treating a condition. If this new law allows people to say that they'd rather not receive treatment in certain circumstances then it can only be a good thing, provided it goes no further than that.
Matt, Maidstone, UK

Yes, "living wills" should be allowed so long as there as specific regulations to ward off unscrupulous relatives or doctors. I have absolutely NO desire to live if my life means lack of quality, loss of dignity and the suffering of pain. I would rather the cost of keeping me alive in a vegetative state be passed on to somebody who will benefit from it and go on to live a full and happy life.
Kiltie, Staffs, UK

Surely, it would be better to have proper legislation with adequate safeguards built in than to rely on a "common law" approach decided only by precedents? At the moment the "living will" does not even have to be a written document.
Richard, Cirencester, UK

If a person is terminally ill and in pain then why not be allowed to choose when you die, (We have all elected to have pets put down rather than let them suffer). However, this SHOULD ONLY be allowed for those that are terminally ill!!!!!
Paul, London

Who in their right mind would want to endure pain for months on end, just because the some poor sighted people take the moral high ground and lack the courage and true compassion to legalise euthanasia.
Bumble, Dartford, UK

The pivotal issue here is not so much the right to die but the right to die with dignity. Dodging the 'D' word is the nature of the beast and sadly, until faced with personal decisions of this nature ourselves, few of us are likely to take any active interest in the matter. Once again, Britain's serial voting apathy is likely to condemn to the waste paper bin what has to be one of the more vital pieces of social legislation to emerge in the past few years.
Patrick V. Staton, Guildford. UK

I'm a Taoist, my philosophical beliefs mean that I would want to die if I'm dying yet I have no right to. This law is based on the Christian belief that only God should be able to say when it's our time so if a doctor can keep someone alive then they have to. So once again someone else's religious beliefs means that I would have to go against my own philosophical beliefs. even though a religion if just a philosophy surrounded by dogma and superstition.

This would allow people to choose to die with a modicum of dignity instead of being forced to suffer, physically or mentally, until the body finally gives up the ghost. Without a doubt, a step in the right direction.
Gary, Yorkshire

It would be a mixed view for me, having studied the subject and repeatedly discussed it in R.S. I am unsure whether it isn't a slow form of suicide. Another worry with not allowing patients to die is euthanasia which would no doubt occur if the person didn't have a will to live. It would be easier to let the person decide for themselves then keeping them alive not at their own will.
Adam, Warrington

The nation is coming round to the consequences of old age, and the desertion of the old, as unwanted. Many old people with severe critical illness do not want to be a burden, and give up the fight to live. In many nursing homes for decades the administration of diamorphine has been part of the routinely given drugs to help end suffering. It is nothing new and continues today. "Living wills", euthanasia, suicide, will be there even if it does not become law.
Jim Evans, Brighton

Firstly you need to distinguish between refusing unwanted medical treatment, and asking for active steps to speed up death. The former is just a matter of confirming your existing rights at a time when communication is difficult. The second issue is that this will inexorably lead to people being expected to 'do the decent thing' and sign their own death warrant, just because they are a burden on society. Don't say this won't happen - it will!
Simon, Southport

YES, my life, my decision.
Mark, Sussex UK

What is desperately needed in regard to this bill is a transparent openness about all its implications. Euthanasia is one issue, dying with ease and dignity another.
David Parsons, Dartford, UK.

They should definitely be allowed, the legality however could be subject to scrutiny, as are normal wills, there would still be people contesting peoples wishes, whether dead or alive, so what difference would it make.
Clint Holmes, Lowestoft

Yes, "living wills" must be allowed to enable people whilst in a sound frame of mind, to decide what treatment they would like in the event of a serious illness. Further I think that euthanasia in certain cases should be our right, to prevent doctors from prolonging any useful vestige of life and to safeguard ourselves and family from as much stress as possible during the process of dying.
Robert Montague, Holsworthy Devon England

We seem to be at the crossroads as a nation. The position in the UK has traditionally been of a Christian view of the distinctness of human life as specially created in the image of God. This has resulted in a view of the sacredness of human life in all its stages and a concern to preserve life and reduce suffering by means other than murder. I believe that any permission for living will fundamentally undermine this basic foundation of ancient law and custom in the UK. It is part of a deliberate process of paganisation of the nation. If you undermine the principle of the sacredness of human life then it will quickly become very cheap.
Andrew Rowell, Carlisle, Cumbria

Why can't people who are of fit mind decide their destiny and dignity should anything bad happen to them. I have mixed feelings about euthanasia but I think this is the compromise solution to a very grey area.
Jock, Blackwood, Gwent

You should have the right to die with dignity.
Hazel, Swindon

Are we not able to decide, when of sound mind, how we should end our days? Surely that is one of our rights when living in a society such as ours; where we are able to make our own decisions about OUR life.
Matt Ross, London, UK

Patients should be allowed to say what treatment they want stopped, after all it is their body. If someone is so ill they are just depressed living, it should be their right to request a silent end to their life.
Joe, London

Yes, they should be allowed.
S. Noble, London

No, "living wills" are fine when you're fit and healthy and they suggest that you will become very ill overnight. But most illnesses are not like that, they might begin mildly so for many years your quality of life, although not what you would have envisaged for yourself but when adapted to, can be very good. The very slow decline may mean that your 'living will' may have to be interpreted by someone else and some relatives do not have our best interest at heart
Pat, Sussex

I expect at lot of protests against this excellent idea on the grounds that it's against God's teachings. But it's your choice if you believe in a god or not, so for those people that argument does not apply, and if they want to end their suffering then it should be up to them to make that choice without religious leaders telling others what they should and should not do.
Adrian Mugridge, Chester, UK

No. The risks are too great.
Adrian Walker, Worthing West Sussex

How can anyone not support this? It's a *CHOICE*. It's a good idea - it satisfies both sides of the argument. Those who oppose the law, oppose choice. It's that simple. In particular, those who oppose this on religious grounds have no right to enforce their beliefs on me - a non-religious person. Euthanasia might well be abused occasionally but then again 3000 people die on British roads every year and we haven't banned driving. The advantages outweigh the cost.
Graham, Carlisle, England


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