Scots palliative care code will be clarified

A Scottish code of practice on end-of-life care will be amended to emphasise the fact that removing fluids and food to end a patient’s life is illegal.

The reference had been left out after the code was updated in 2008.

But concerns were raised that the legal position around euthanasia was not made clear.

Previously the code had said that anyone who did not give patients food or drink, with euthanasia in mind, would be breaking the law.

Michael Matheson MSP wrote to Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish Health Secretary, asking for the wording to be re-entered, which she now says she intends to do.

The code relates to the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “The code of practice clearly states that the Act does not affect the existing criminal law, and neither does the Act change the law in relation to euthanasia which remains a criminal act under Scots Law.

“Clearly, there can be no doubt about the legal position.

“Nonetheless, in response to representations, Ministers intend to reinstate the specific reference to food and fluids in order to provide complete reassurance and put the matter beyond doubt.”

In 2008 the Scottish Government promised higher standards of palliative care for terminally ill patients.

It said patients suffering from incurable illnesses would be identified and given a care plan covering their emotional, physical and spiritual needs within two weeks.

Other plans included 24-hour nursing and care services for patients who want to see out the last days of their life at home.

In England the situation is different with a legal precedent set by the Tony Bland case.

Following a lengthy legal battle judges controversially ruled that the artificial feeding and hydration of the Hillsborough coma victim was “treatment” which could be withdrawn.

The ruling was opposed by pro-life groups who argued that providing food and water is not medical treatment. However, euthanasia campaigners welcomed the decision.

Tony Bland died after nine days without nutrition or fluids.

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