HL Deb 03 June 1998 vol 590 cc37-8WA
Lord Alton of Liverpool

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the difference between euthanasia and the removal of food and liquids from a terminally ill patient; and, if this is not euthanasia, what is this procedure called. [HL1969]

Baroness Jay of Paddington

Euthanasia, as commonly understood, is the deliberate killing of a person, whether at that person's own request or for a merciful motive. Euthanasia is unlawful and anyone alleged to have undertaken it is open to charges of murder or manslaughter.

The courts have ruled that artificial hydration and nutrition is "medical treatment". The cessation of this treatment has no short name, but in the case of Anthony Bland the judge at first instance described the situation as one where doctors "may lawfully discontinue all life-sustaining treatment and medical support measures". Where the patient is not able to consent to treatment, and in the absence of a valid advance directive, it is a doctor's duty to act in the best interests of his patient. Sometimes this may mean the cessation of treatment which is no longer beneficial. In these circumstances, suitable medical care should be provided to ensure that the comfort and dignity of the patient are maintained.