Mackay steps in on living wills report

THE LORD Chancellor has announced he will not implement a Law Commission report which took five years in the making.

Although his department has not rejected the commission's report on mental incapacity out of hand, a parliamentary answer by Lord Mackay last week suggested it would prove more controversial than anticipated.

The report, published as a draft Bill last March following four consultations, set out to reform the law relating to people with mental disabilities. It also covered the sensitive issue of living wills, where people decide on the form of their later treatment before extreme illness makes them unable to make decisions for themselves.

The then commission chair, Mr Justice Brooke, said the proposed changes respected “people's wishes to take certain decisions for themselves, whenever they can do so. It gives their carers the power to take certain decisions provided they act in the best interests of the person concerned. And it provides a court structure in which courts will themselves have power to take decisions, in place of the hole in the law that exists today.”

But Mackay said euthanasia to the Government was unacceptable and it would now issue a consultation of its own.

“The Government wishes to emphasise it fully supports the views of the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics that euthanasia is unacceptable and has no plans to change this policy. The Government's consultation will thus not include any proposals on this subject,” he said.

Lord Mackay's stance has raised some eyebrows, especially as the commission report does not deal directly with euthanasia. It has also been suggested the decision was made to pre-empt any adverse political fall-out, as happened with the Daily Mail's campaign against the commission's proposals on divorce reform and domestic violence.

Lord Mackay's decision came only days before a major conference on mental health by the Law Society and the British Medical Association, which was due to discuss the commission report.

Penny Letts, secretary of the society's mental health and disability committee, said she was surprised and disappointed by the decision.

“We felt the proposals were well thought out and they provided a comprehensive and consistent framework in which the law can be operated.”