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Ann Winterton and Dr Michael Wilks
A discussion of end of life issues
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Friday, 28 January, 2000, 09:14 GMT
Anti-euthanasia bill before Commons

Intensive care Withdrawal of treatment is a controversial area

Doctors who allow patients to die when they could be kept alive face prosecution under a Private Member's Bill published on Friday.

The Bill, launched by Tory MP Ann Winterton, is designed to tighten the law on euthanasia.

Health: Background Briefing: Euthanasia
Mrs Winterton's Medical Treatment (Prevention of Euthanasia) Bill was prompted by allegations that the NHS was denying treatment to the oldest and sickest patients in order to free beds.

The objective is to make it clear to doctors that they cannot bring about the deaths of their patients either by a positive action, or by an omission, such as withholding or withdrawing life-prolonging treatment, or withdrawing food and drink for the terminally ill.

If it is the purpose of the doctor to withdraw medical treatment, including food and fluids, with the objective of killing the patient then that would be illegal
Ann Winterton
Mrs Winterton said many people were very concerned about the current situation - at least 80 legal cases were pending about the withdrawal of food and fluids.

She said her Bill was designed to protect vulnerable people such as the mentally incapacitated.

Mrs Winterton told the BBC: "My Bill lays down a simple purpose test. If it is the purpose of the doctor to withdraw medical treatment, including food and fluids, with the objective of killing the patient then that would be illegal."

Ann Winterton Ann Winterton wants to protect vulnerable people
Speaking later in the House of Commons, Mrs Winterton called for MPs to take a firm stance against euthanasia of any form.

She said: "There is a need for this house to send a clear and unequivocal message to the vulnerable, the elderly, the disabled and the terminally ill that they are still valued members of our society.

"Equally, I believe it is imperative that we send a message to the doctors and healthcare workers of this country: that message is that their hard work and dedication to the health of their patients must not be undermined by accepting an ethos promoted by only a few in their profession that some lives are less worthy than others, and should be brought to an end."

While the British Medical Association is against euthanasia, many doctors have argued that there is no point in continuing treatment beyond the point where there is any prospect of the patient recovering.

BMA guidelines published last year gave doctors the go-ahead to withdraw food and fluids in such a situation.

Dr Michael Wilks Dtr Michael Wilks defended the right to withdraw treatment
Dr Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA's ethics committee, said: "If you are talking about a situation where the doctor is absolutely convinced, having consulted with the team, the nurses and the family, that there is no prospect of recovery surely we should at least be compassionate in our care of that patient and consider whether continuing that treatment is not burdensome.

"If that includes artificial nutrition and hydration then doctors should be able to consider withdrawing it."

The Bill received its second reading after MPs voted to close the debate by 113 votes to two, a majority of 111.

Although not backed by the Government, the Bill has a good chance of making progress.

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See also:
15 Dec 99 |  Health
Government condemns 'voluntary euthanasia'
06 Dec 99 |  Health
NHS euthanasia claims ludicrous'
23 Jun 99 |  Health
Doctors allowed to let patients die
23 Jun 99 |  Health
BMA guidance: The main points
08 Jul 99 |  Health
BMA stands by end-of-life guidance
16 Feb 99 |  Health
Euthanasia controls 'failing'

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