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Bishops back Bill, but not euthanasia

THE BISHOPS of St Albans and Worcester gave their support to the Mental Capacity Bill during its second reading in the House of Lords on Monday. The Bill is designed to give legal backing to "living wills" by which patients can demand the right to die by refusing treatment when facing terminal decline.

Pressure from religious groups, particularly from the Roman Catholic Church, had brought assurances from the Government that the Bill did not change the law on suicide and murder.

"What the Bill does is to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are dependent not solely on the compassion and care of others for their own well-being, no matter how saintly and dedicated those carers might be," the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Christopher Herbert, told the Lords.

The Bill stated "very loudly and clearly" that all people had absolute worth, said Bishop Herbert. He asked the Minister concerned to assure the House that the Bill could not be used to introduce euthanasia into society. He also asked for assurances that the complex ethical issues existing in this area of medi-cal research be subject to "the most careful scrutiny" before progression.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr Peter Selby, said that the Bill was "fundamentally about my future and that of all noble Lords. Unless we happen to be among those who die suddenly and without the possibility of medial attention, we all have before us moments, weeks, months or years when we shall lack capacity. I think we have all assumed that at those difficult and crucial moments we shall be able to trust those around us to sustain us with . . . love, concern and compassion."

Dr Selby said that the Bill was not "about euthanasia - either in intention or in practice". He also commended the principles contained in clause one of the Bill. "It seems to me that part of my absolute right to life is the right not to have things done to me against my wishes, and in abuse of [those principles]," he said.

"What I am entitled to refuse when I have capacity I should be entitled to refuse in anticipation of the time when I do not."

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