THE row over allegations that elderly patients were left to die in NHS hospitals took a fresh twist yesterday with the beginning of an all-party attempt to tighten the laws against euthanasia.
Ann Winterton, the Tory MP, unveiled plans to introduce a Private Member's Bill next month that would prevent doctors intentionally bringing about the death of patients, either by deliberate acts or their failure to take steps to keep people alive.
Mrs Winterton, a long-standing pro-life campaigner, said the moral and ethical issues had been graphically highlighted by reports in The Telegraph illustrating how the health care of many older people had been neglected. The MP for Congleton came top in the ballot for backbench legislation and in theory her Medical Treatment (Prevention of Euthanasia) Bill stands a good chance of making progress.
However, her allegation that "euthanasia by another name" was being practised by some doctors infuriated the British Medical Association, which said it would fight any attempt to force doctors to continue treatment beyond the point that it would benefit patients.
The Government also signalled that it did not believe the law needed changing beyond its own proposals to set up a statutory framework for regulating the care of adults incapable of looking after themselves.
Mrs Winterton said the law had been undermined by guidance drawn up by the BMA this year on withholding and withdrawing life-prolonging treatment in special cases, such as patients in a persistent vegetative state. However, the BMA insisted that its guidance was intended to help doctors make compassionate decisions about treatment at the end of life, for patients with no prospect of recovery.
9 December 1999: New laws needed 'to protect the old and infirm'
7 December 1999: Analysis: Euthanasia is a job for executioners not doctors
8 July 1999: Artificial feeding guidelines challenged
24 June 1999: Doctors given wider advice on when to let patients die
17 May 1999: New Bill will promote euthanasia, says cardinal
17 February 1999: Guidelines for doctors on refusing treatment
15 October 1998: Doctors campaign against easing of euthanasia laws
8 July 1998: Doctors aim for consensus on assisted suicide
2 April 1998: Irvine gives pledge on euthanasia
10 December 1997: 'Mercy killings' court proposed