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Mental Capacity Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 25th January 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) 2:30 pm, 25th January 2005

I assure the Committee that if there were a simple way through this, I would have taken it a very long time ago. The difficulty which the noble Lord, Lord Walton, has in a sense walked into is precisely the difficulty of what English law means. The noble Lord will know very well—and I apologise if I seem to be teaching him to suck eggs—that when choosing a particular form of treatment the clinician knows the consequences involved, which may have what is known in clinical circles as "double effect". That means that a treatment may have the purpose of helping to support the individual, but may also have implications in shortening life by a few hours, and so on.

We have sought to be absolutely crystal clear that we do not want to interfere with the way the law is at the moment. I have sought the best legal advice on this and discussed the matter with clinicians. I will of course continue to consider the issues, but I would not want to mislead the Committee, because what I am not going to do is to overturn the legal position that serves us so well. I am clear about what we were asked to do, which was to consider a clarification around "best interests". That is what we have done, and that is why the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Cardiff has supported the amendment and why I hope that it will find favour with the Committee.