Only days after a British court authorized doctors and family members of seriously brain-injured patients to decide to starve them to death, a proposal has been submitted by the British Medical Association to extend the authorization to those with dementia or other degenerative diseases.
According to the Christian Institute, the proposal from the BMA would extend to doctors the right to withhold food and water from patients who still could live for years.
They would do that by calling food and water “medical treatments.”
The BMA plan states the options should apply to patients with recognized degenerative conditions “such as advanced dementia, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s disease or stroke patients with ‘rapidly progressive brain injury.”
The idea drew immediate horror from people who have been incapacitated at times but have recovered.
“Often people are admitted to hospital unable to speak or move, but they get better. Under these rules, many will not have a chance to get better,” Sian Vasey, 62, told the institute.
“If I reach the point where I can’t eat, drink or talk then I am in trouble,” she said, calling the plan “the most chilling thing I’ve heard.”
Some doctors also are opposing it.
The institute quoted Patrick Pullicino of East Kent Hospitals University saying it was “terrible.”
The plan calls for doctors to starve patients then report they died of their original condition.
But Pullicino said that policy “directs doctors to falsify death certificates.”
“It tells doctors to put down the pre-existing condition and not that they died of dehydration,” he said.
Dr. Peter Saunders of the anti-euthanasia charity Care Not Killing said there are tens of thousands of patients in the U.K. that could be in danger.
The London Daily Mail reported the BMA wants physicians to have permission to remove tubes giving food and water to those who cannot feed themselves.
“The draft proposals being circulated by the BMA say doctors should be able to end the lives not only of patients close to death or in deep comas – in vegetative or minimally conscious states – but of those suffering from much more common degenerative conditions, including advanced dementia,” the report said.
The Mail said some 850,000 are thought to have dementia in Britain.
The guidelines admit that the patients could lose years of their lives.
A BMA spokesman told the Mail that decisions regarding the withdrawal of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration posed many ethical and legal challenges.
The question was whether a decision by the doctors and family to deprive the patient of food and water until death needed to be approved by a court.
Said the ruling: “Having looked at the issue in its wider context as well as from a narrower legal perspective, I do not consider that it has been established that the common law or the [European Court of Human Rights], in combination or separately, give rise to the mandatory requirement, for which the Official Solicitor contends, to involve the court to decide upon the best interests of every patient with a prolonged disorder of consciousness before [food and water] can be withdrawn.
“If there is agreement upon what is in the best interests of the patient, the patient may be treated in accordance with that agreement without application to the court.”
The opinion was written by Lady Black and joined by four other judges.
The Christian Institute noted the loss of the “important safeguard” for brain-injured patients.
Previously, the report said, independent experts in the Court of Protection would have been required to consider Mr. Y’s case.
But the court ruling means the requirement no longer is necessary. In fact, the ruling found that nutrition and hydration are “medical treatment.”
The decision aligns with court rulings in the Terri Schiavo case more than a decade ago in the United States. A court determined Schiavo, who suffered brain injuries in a still-unexplained collapse in her home, could be deprived of food and water.
The institute noted Mr. Y’s physician determined that if he regained consciousness he still would be dependent on others, and the medical team and his family both agreed to end his food and water.
“The Supreme Court did make clear that there is a difference of opinion, if the Court of Protection should still be involved,” the institute report said. “But Melanie Phillips, a columnist for The Times, warned that hospitals could pressure families into agreement and courts could minimize loved-ones’ views.”
The case ended up in the courts when the National Health Service Trust requested a ruling that “it was not mandatory to seek the court’s approval” for the actions.
On the 10th anniversary of Schiavo’s death, WND reported the issue remained a hot controversy.
At the time a feeding tube was removed from Schiavo in 2005, she swallowed, laughed and loved, said her brother, Bobby Schindler, who insisted she was not in a persistent vegetative state as media reported.
Less than two weeks later, she died of starvation and dehydration.
“If you go back and look at her records, she was starting to form words,” her brother told WND at the time. “It was really encouraging to our family, and to Michael (Terri’s husband) right at first.”
Several similar cases have developed since Terri’s death in which coma patients suddenly awakened, sometimes telling stories of having been able to hear people talking about them while in the coma.
WND reported on the case of Martin Pistorius, who in the 1980s fell into a coma. In a vegetative state for 12 years, he later began talking, using a computer, and was mobile in a wheelchair. During those 12 years, he was aware of his surroundings and remembers conversations, including one time when his mother said, “I hope you die.”
A few years ago, a woman was in a short coma due to a medical condition, and her husband made the difficult decision after several days to halt her life support. She immediately became restless, woke up and said: “Get me out of here. … Take me to Ted’s and take me to the Melting Pot,” naming two Mexican restaurants.
WND has been reporting on the Terri Schiavo story since 2002 – far longer than most other national news organizations – and exposing the many troubling, scandalous and possibly criminal aspects of the case that to this day rarely surface in news reports. Read WND’s unparalleled, in-depth coverage of the life-and-death fight over Terri Schiavo, including more than 150 original stories and columns.