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Ministers last week unveiled improvements to its draft Mental Incapacity Bill which would provide a new statutory framework to protect vulnerable people, carers and professionals.
The changes were set out in the Government's response to a report by a Parliamentary Scrutiny Committee on the draft legislation.
Ministers answered criticisms from religious and rightwing groups who thought the legislation could promote euthanasia. "This Bill is not about euthanasia," said Lord Filkin, minister at the Department for Constitutional Affairs said. "It is about increasing vulnerable people's rights and their protection. The Bill helps protect vulnerable people from abuse by setting out how in law they should be treated. In particular, their best interests are always the key principle. Their wishes and feelings should be taken into account and people close to them should be consulted about decisions."
Proposals by the scrutiny committee that were taken on board by the Government included redrafting the concept of a "general authority" to demonstrate that this did not give anyone blanket authority to intervene in the life of someone who lacks capacity but instead protected carers from liability; providing a draft outline of the Codes of Practice to accompany the Bill; and putting right up front a statement that everyone was assumed to have capacity. The government also plans to rename the Bill the 'Mental Capacity Bill' to underline its message that those suffering from mental problems should be allowed to continue making their own decisions as long as they are capable of doing so.
The Law Society, which has campaigned for more than 10 years for the legislation, backed the changes. "We are particularly reassured that the Government is committed to achieving a statement of principles at the outset of the Bill, and that there will be codes of practice to make clear what the 'best interests' principle will mean for decision-makers," said Law Society President, Peter Williamson. "We urge the Government to take this legislation forward at the earliest possible opportunity, providing much-needed legal guidance and protection for the large number of carers and family members who look after people lacking mental capacity."