Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Incapacity Bill Written Evidence

47.Memorandum from Christine Hudson (MIB 20)

  1.  I am totally against the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatments and care, including tube feeding, to mentally incapacitated patients. Such a deliberate act is intentional killing. It is euthanasia. I disagree with Lord Filkin who has said that this Bill will provide "protection" for adults who are mentally incapacitated. Not affording someone basic care, food and water, when they are at their most vulnerable, in no way can be described as "protection". What it does indicate, at a time when the National Health Service is already groaning, and about to groan some more with a burgeoning elderly population, is that time and money expended in the care of such patients can be "better" used elsewhere. Those charged with implementing this law can rely upon the fact that this decision making process will never be challenged by the recipients of such treatment as they are not only mentally incapacitated but will end up dead as a result—an ideal situation!

  2.  For centuries, doctors have exercised their expertise under the directive of the Hippocratic Oath, "First, do no harm". However one tries to rationalise and intellectualise what is proposed, being starved and dehydrated to death, is a very painful experience, a barbaric practice and in total contravention of the aims of the Hippocratic Oath. We would not treat an animal like this, especially in this country, so why are we proposing to do this to human beings? It might be as well to remember that the Hippocratic Oath was formulated to combat a situation where patients no longer trusted their doctors to serve their best interests and I think it is to the shame of a so-called civilised society that such a situation will inevitably arise again if this Bill becomes law. Only in situations such as at the very end of life, when sometimes swallowing or assimilating food can be a burden, would it be legitimate to withhold food or fluids for the comfort of the patient.

  3.  To perceive people living with a profound disability like PVS as tantamount to being as good as dead or having "no best interests", (according to Lord Mustill, a member of the appellate Committee of the House of Lords which decided the Bland case) is so wrong. It is the stark philosophy of "survival of the fittest" being put into action. It violates every respect and dignity due to that person as a fellow member of the human race. There are few moral convictions more deeply ingrained than the sanctity of human life. Life has always been seen as a basic good and there is no stronger human instinct than self-preservation. Even the term, Persistent Vegetative State is derogatory as it implies that profoundly disabled people can be compared to vegetables. Laws are meant to protect fundamental human rights which is why existing laws have never permitted the intentional killing of an innocent person by either act or omission. If this Bill is passed in its present form, it will permit euthanasia by neglect and omission and will have started the slippery slope to so-called "mercy killings". The British Medical Association has publicly stated that it wants to extend this law to patients suffering strokes and advanced dementia and the pro-euthanasia groups are already straining at the leash. I admit that I find it hard to understand why profoundly disabled patients achieve dignity only in death. My own daughter, until last year, was a Staff Nurse on a stroke unit. She was unhappy about several decisions concerning profoundly disabled stroke patients and in one instance was reprimanded by the consultant in charge for being instrumental in getting an incapacitated patient who was being starved, tube fed. She has now left nursing to have her first baby and has not renewed her UKCC registration as she is adamant that she will not be going back to nursing.

  4.  If a person "ill treats or wilfully neglects" a mentally incapacitated person in their care, the Bill makes provision for that person to be punished. I see these as weasel words! Do those who drew up the Bill not see that starving and dehydrating a vulnerable person to death is in itself "wilful neglect"? Tony Bland was not, as is popularly believed, on a life—support machine at the time the Courts decided to count tube feeding as medical treatment. He was cold-bloodedly starved to death. Lord Justice Hoffman, concerning the 1993 Bland case, noted that: "If someone allows a small child or invalid in his care to starve to death, we do not say that he allowed nature to take its course. We think that he has committed a particularly wicked crime. We treat him as if he had introduced an external agency of death. It is the same ethical principle, which requires doctors and hospitals to provide patients in their care with such medical attention and nursing as they are reasonably able to give. The giving of food to a needy person is so much the quintessential example of kindness and humanity that it is hard to imagine a case in which it would be morally right to withhold it." Lord Mustill noted that the Bland Judgement left the law "Morally and intellectually misshapen".

  5.  I am most unhappy with the term "best interests" as defined in the Draft Mental Incapacity Bill. This Bill interprets these interests as the "wishes and feelings" of the incapacitated person—a very whimsical notion. I am also unhappy about the proposed binding status of Advanced Directives. I have a now elderly relative who has suffered from a personality disorder all her life. This has provoked regular periods of severe depression, leading to episodes of extreme confusion and numerous attempts at self harm and suicide. In between these episodes, she leads a normal life, living and caring for herself and helping at village events. Her periods of normality last for a couple of years at a time. When she is depressed, she feels that she would be better off dead and wants to die. I have recently discovered that in one of her depressive modes, she completed an Advanced Directive from the Voluntary Euthanasia Society asking not to be resuscitated, which she has not retracted. Under the afore-mentioned terms of this Bill, Peggy, who is now seventy five years old, would no longer be with us.

  6.  The draft Mental Incapacity Bill, make no mistake, IS legalising euthanasia. I believe in respect for all human life, no matter how profoundly disabled. Any act or omission with the deliberate intent to bring about the death of that person is wrong. The doctor must always seek the patient's restoration of health, preservation of life, prevention of impairment and alleviation from suffering.

  7.  Before I end, I would like to register a protest at the extremely short consultation period afforded by the government for such an important piece of legislation. I am having to take time out to write this letter the day before I go off on holiday when I have many other things to do with a young family.

August 2003

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 28 November 2003