MANCHESTER, England (CNS) — The British 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 British law 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 Nov. 26 statement that the inquiry would also review how cash incentives — paid to state-funded National Health Service hospital trusts to hit targets on the percentages of patient deaths on the pathway — might have led to “bad decisions or practice.”

“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 Lamb.

A Nov. 27 statement by the Catholic Communications Network said that Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark, chairman of the English and Welsh bishops’ Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship, welcomed the review.

It said the archbishop had passed on “specific concerns raised with him by some clinicians” and had called for such an inquiry in a Sept. 27 letter to the government.

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury also issued a Nov. 27 statement praising the intervention of Fiona Bruce, the member of Parliament for Congleton, within his diocese.

Bruce had pressed the government to open the inquiry following her experience of one of her parents dying on the pathway.

Bishop Davies added: “All of us need to have confidence that medical and nursing practice is upholding in our hospitals the value and dignity of human life until the moment of natural death.”