DEATH WITH DIGNITY: Doctors in England May Withdraw Care
The British Medical Association has issued new guidelines specifying that doctors can halt life-sustaining treatment for terminally ill patients and help them "die with dignity," sparking concern among some groups that the move inches closer to legalizing euthanasia, the BBC News reports. Although the instructions stop "well short of any encouragement to commit euthanasia," in some cases, they allows doctors to stop treatment even on "patients who are not about to die." The BMA recommends that "feeding may be stopped if it causes the patient to choke," artificial feeding tubes can be withdrawn, physicians should consult colleagues regarding their decisions and consider the views of the patient and the patient's family. And finally, in cases where consensus cannot be reached, the case should go to court. The BMA hopes the rulings will give doctors "more confidence in dealing with the terminally ill, and not continue with painful treatments simply because they are afraid of the consequences of stopping" (6/23).
Two cases brought the issue to the fore, the BBC News reports. Dr. Ken Taylor came under fire for overruling the nursing staff in deciding to withdraw nutritional supplement from an 85-year-old women fed from a syringe squirted down her throat. Taylor was suspended for six months, "not because he had taken the treatment away, but because he failed to listen to the nurses and consult colleagues." In a second case, Dr. David Moor was acquitted of murder charges after he gave large doses of morphine to a terminally ill cancer patient. The jury sided with Moor, who said "his only aim was to relieve end-of-life pain" (6/23).
The BMA decision prompted a flurry of responses from anti-euthanasia groups. Mike Willis of the Pro-Life Alliance said, "This is a benchmark recommendation in terms of the introduction of involuntary euthanasia into this country. ... As for this idea of considering hydration as a treatment, it's a basic human need and you wouldn't deny it to a dog." Jamie Bogle, an attorney who specializes in medical issues, predicted that the guidelines will "widen it right out into a whole range of conditions, many of them nonterminal, in which we will be talking about intentionally terminating a patient's life by dehydration" (BBC News, 6/23).