Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Friday 29 July 2005

The right to live and the right to die

Ethics. Who decides?

A man with a degenerative brain condition, Leslie Burke, has lost to the General Medical Council (GMC) in an appeal they lodged against an earlier ruling in his favour which guaranteed his right to prevent artificial hydration and nutrition being withdrawn by doctors against his will, in the [very likely] event that he loses the power of speech in due course. Undoubtedly this kind of case is extremely difficult, as are those where a patient wishes to be allowed to die by having hydration and nutrition withdrawn, against the wishes of doctors, coupled with the machinations that determined terminally ill people may have to resort to, to have their way (i.e. travel to Switzerland, where voluntary euthanasia is permissible).

My firm belief is that the final decision needs to be in the hands of patients or, where they are incapable [any longer] of making their views known, in the hands of trusted family members. Such life and death matters should not be left to the discretion of doctors. I regard the ruling in favour of the GMC yesterday as a monstrous diminution in the rights of patients. The comment by Joyce Robins of Patient Concern that the decision is "a huge step backwards for patients" is absolutely spot-on.

What particularly angers me, though, is the weasle argument of counsel for the GMC, Philip Havers, QC, that the original ruling 'had fundamentally altered the nature of doctor/patient relationships and was not in the best interests of the patient'; it really is no business of any health professional, far less a paid legal hack, to arrogate to himself the right to decide what is in the best interests of the patient when that might involve a decision to allow a patient to die by the withdrawal of hydration and nutrition. The ethics of allowing such a concept to form the basis of any part of our laws is an obscentiy; quite rightly such arrogant nonsense is disallowed in the case of dumb animals, who obviously cannot verbalise their views, but it seems to be acceptable for humans. Completely crazy!

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