Archbishop Smith had asked the Department of Health to launch an inquiry in September

The Government has opened an independent inquiry into allegations that an end-of-life protocol is operating as a euthanasia pathway.

It said the inquiry would investigate complaints raised by families who say that relatives have died after they were placed, without their knowledge, on the Liverpool Care Pathway. The framework, intended for people in their final hours of life, often involves sedation and withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment, which under includes food and fluids. Critics say it is being used to hasten the deaths of terminally ill and elderly patients who are not imminently dying.

Norman Lamb, Britain’s Care and Support Minister, said in a statement on Monday that the inquiry would also review whether financial incentives – paid to state-funded NHS hospital trusts to hit targets on the percentages of patient deaths on the pathway – might have led to “bad decisions or practice”.

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“It is vitally important that everyone can be confident in the findings of this work – and that we learn lessons where they are needed, so we can ensure that end-of-life care is as good as it can be,” said Mr Lamb.

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, chairman of the English and Welsh bishops’ Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, welcomed the review. A statement issued on Monday said the archbishop had passed on “specific concerns raised with him by some clinicians” and had called for such an inquiry in a September 27 letter to the Government.

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