British Bishops Assail Government Report on Patients

Fear Its Consequences for Abortion and Euthanasia

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LONDON, JULY 16, 2002 ( The Catholic Church in England and Wales criticized a British government document over how it deals with topics such as patients’ interests, abortion and euthanasia.

The bishops’ conference and the Linacre Center for Health Care Ethics issued a strongly worded response today to the government consultation paper «Making Decisions: Helping People Who Have Difficulty Deciding for Themselves.»

The response was submitted to the Lord Chancellor’s department by Archbishop Peter Smith as chairman of the bishops’ Department for Christian Citizenship and Responsibility.

While accepting that the leaflets contain helpful advice on financial and other matters, the response says that «in the area of health care, we believe the leaflets need extensive revision.»

Specifically, the response states: «The role of the doctor in protecting patients’ interests is neglected in the leaflets: It is often unclear that the ‘best interests’ of the incompetent person are his or her objective best interests, including clinical best interests.»

«On the contrary,» it adds, «‘best interests’ often seem to be collapsed into what the patient wanted, or would have wanted, or (in practice) what other people think (or say) the patient wanted, or would have wanted.»

«There is also no recognition of the medical complexity of advance refusals of treatment, nor of the fact that advance refusals — like contemporaneous refusals — can have a suicidal motivation,» the response warns.

The response also says the leaflets are «uncritical of existing law permitting abortion and sterilization of mentally disabled women, and deliberate killing by omission of patients in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ or similar condition.»

It finishes by pointing out: «Despite many good features of the leaflets in the ‘Making Decisions’ consultation, they fail to protect the very people whose interests they are designed to serve.»

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