Muslim doctors warned yesterday that they would rather go to jail than allow patients to die in accordance with “living wills”.
The new Mental Capacity Act allows patients to write the wills, instructing doctors not to try to save them if they become incapacitated.
It also allows patients to give “lasting powers of attorney” to a friend or relative who would be able to instruct doctors to starve to death a patient who becomes incapacitated.
Doctors who refuse to carry out such instructions risk prosecution for assault and a possible jail term.
However, the Islamic Medical Association is urging its members to defy the Act, which comes into force next Monday.
It fears the law will compel Muslim doctors to stop life-preserving treatment or remove tubes providing food and water.
“British doctors are worried today about the Act, which allows and in some cases requires food and water to be denied to mentallyincapacitated, non-dying persons,” said a spokesman.
“In doing that, our innocent patients will die in pain and agony from the horrific effects of starvation and dehydration.
“We oppose strongly any court decision or power of attorney used to justify participation in starving or dehydrating anyone to death.
“All Muslim doctors, nurses and patients, expressing our Islamic beliefs, should oppose this inhumane Act.”
Other religious groups have also voiced their opposition to the law.
Earlier this month, the Roman Catholic Church said doctors had a moral obligation to provide food and fluid to patients in a vegetative state.
Tube feeding has been classified as a “treatment” – not a necessity – since the House of Lords ruled in 1993 that doctors could end the life of Tony Bland, who was left in a coma after being crushed in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
The Vatican said artificial nutrition should not simply be terminated just because doctors have determined that a person will never recover consciousness.
A statement said: “The provision of water and food, even by artificial means, always represents a natural means for preserving life and is not a therapeutic treatment.”
Anthony Ozimic, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children-said the Act placed doctors in a serious dilemma.
He urged the church to support health workers of any faith “resisting pressure to co-operate in the killingby-omission of their patients”.
Mr Ozimic added: “Everyone, particularly Catholics, should be made aware that the church teaches definitively that no advance directive nor court decision nor power of attorney can justify participation in starving or dehydrating anyone to death.”
A spokesman for the British Humanist Association said, however: “The doctor’s first duty is to the patient and part of that has to be respecting their patients’ deeply-held wishes in relation to their care.
“Doctors’ own religious convictions should never be allowed to interfere with patients’ rights.”
The British Medical Association has also said it will not support doctors who deliberately ignore patients’ wishes.