Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Archbishop Smith's account of the pro-life battle is flawed

Most. Rev. Peter Smith, the new Catholic archbishop of Southwark, London, gave an interview recently to Anna Arco of The Catholic Herald. She writes:
"When I ask [Abp. Smith] about what he considers the greatest success and the greatest disappointment in terms of his parliamentary work, he cites the Mental Capacity Act for the former and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act for the latter. In both cases, Archbishop Smith was heavily involved in consultations with the Government and civil servants, pointing out weaknesses in the Government’s legislation and getting MPs to table amendments. He says the Government wasn’t aware of the loopholes left in the Mental Capacity Act, because of its definition of euthanasia as a positive act – a needle injecting a fateful dose – rather than euthanasia by omission, by inappropriate withdrawal of care or withholding of treatment. After 18 months of discussions the Church managed to persuade the Government to close the loopholes and include a clause, drafted by Professor John Finnis of Oxford University, which stated that whatever was done, it should never be done motivated by a desire to kill someone."
The truth of the matter is:
  • none of the bill's loopholes were closed
  • the government's amendments were cosmetic changes designed to make legalised euthanasia by omission respectable
  • the Finnis amendment was (at best) defective and (at worst) helped defuse opposition to the bill
  • it is sadly a matter of public record that Abp. Smith publicly opposed SPUC’s campaign on the Mental Capacity Bill. He welcomed the Bill, accepted the Government’s assurances that the Bill would not enshrine in law euthanasia by neglect, and co-operated with the Government in ensuring its passage through Parliament.
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 enshrines deliberate killing by omission in statute. It does this in a number of ways:
  • by re-drawing (or removing) crucial medical and legal principles and distinctions, including the presumption in favour of life, liability/negligence, patient consent, the medical treatment/basic care distinction;
  • by extending, in statute, the possible scope to a much wider range of incapacitated patients of the Law Lords' Bland judgment (a judgement which permitted Tony Bland, a PVS patient, to be dehydrated to death);
  • by establishing a new test for patients' "best interests", with no reference to existing criteria;
  • by giving overriding force to advance refusals of treatment, including suicidal ones;
  • by allowing proxy decision-makers to make deliberately life-ending decisions for incapacitated patients.
The Finnis amendment crucially referred only to excluding decisions only where the decision-maker is motivated by a desire to kill, rather than simply having an intention to kill. If challenged, those complicit in the patient's death can claim that they were simply motivated by a desire to end the patient’s suffering, fulfil the patient’s living will, act in the patient's "best interests", etc. Thus, the Finnis amendment would only possibly detect people with pronounced homicidal tendencies such as mass murderer Dr Harold Shipman - and even then only after such killers may have been brought to court. The Finnis amendment was no substitute for real amendments prohibiting any act or omission which of itself and by intention causes death. The Finnis amendment does not prevent the Act's key mechanisms from being used and abused to kill vulnerable patients.

On the issue of assisted suicide, Abp. Smith's account to Anna Arco leaves the impression that his lobbying was successful in putting to rights draft policy on the prosecution of assisted suicide cases. Indeed, sadly, Abp Smith welcomed the director of public prosecutions (DPP)'s final policy, which blunts the ban on assisted suicide.

Abp. Smith also told Anna Arco:
"I don’t understand why they want to liberalise abortion law because it is as liberal as it could get."
This is simply wrong. There are many ways in which the Abortion Act 1967 continues to restrict abortion, both in law and in practice. Abortion remains in general a criminal offence in English law, under the Offences Against The Person Act 1861. There is thus no right to abortion in English law - a crucial bulwark against the international pro-abortion lobby's incesssant attempts to have abortion declared a fundamental human right in international law. Abortion is not, both in English law and in practice, treated as any other medical procedure. Two doctors must attest that at least one of the several grounds for abortion in the Abortion Act 1967 have been satisfied before authorising an abortion. Doctors can - and sometimes do - decline to authorise an abortion. In addition, the Act's conscience clause helps keep pro-life doctors within the medical profession. These safeguards, whilst flawed and often abused, both save lives and send negative messages about abortion.

Comments on this blog? Email them to johnsmeaton@spuc.org.uk
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