Health: Patients may be given right to die

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The Independent Online
Terminally ill patients could be given the legal right to leave "living wills" asking for the right to die with dignity, the Lord Chancellor said last night.

Lord Irvine of Lairg said that while euthanasia would remain illegal, the Government was consulting on the legal status of living wills. This could allow people to say in advance how they want to be treated if they become incapacitated.

The consultation follows the death last week of Annie Lindsell, a sufferer from motor neurone disease who went to the High Court to ask for a doctor's assistance in dying.

The court ruled that her GP could legally administer palliative drugs which could have the effect of shortening her life.

Another high profile case was that of the Hillsborough victim Tony Bland, whose family went to court for the right to allow him to die.

Lord Irvine said those suffering from a mental incapacity might also be helped by the move to clarify the law.

"Medical advances mean that people are living longer, and more people are still alive while being unable to take key decisions about their future welfare. We have to ensure the law enables decisions to be taken in their best interests.

"Clear laws will also help carers and professionals acting on their behalf," he said.

However, he added that there was a need for full consultation because of the strong personal, religious and ethical views many people held on the issue.

"I must make clear that the Government is completely opposed to euthanasia, the deliberate ending of life. It is illegal now and will remain illegal. Nobody can ask a doctor to do anything illegal. If a doctor takes action it will remain a charge of murder. What the Government is consulting on is the legal status of advance statements, also known as 'living wills," he added.

Surgeons were yesterday told they have a moral right not to prevent the death of a brain-damaged patient. The new guidelines said that sugeons should respect the "living will" wishes of patients who have asked that specific treatments should not be given for particular conditions, such as irreversible brain damage.

Fran Abrams

Political Correspondent.