National health service - NHS doctors and nurses accused
of involuntary euthanasia in Britain
By Liz Townsend
that elderly patients and patients with disabilities are being killed by
involuntary euthanasia have caused a firestorm of controversy in Great Britain,
as families across the nation come forward with stories of how their loved ones
were given fatal doses of painkillers or "do not resuscitate" (DNR)
orders without their agreement.
The National Health Service (NHS), a health system run
by the national government, provides medical care in Britain. According to
families, doctors, and patient advocate groups, tight funding and high demand
often lead doctors and hospitals to ration treatment of patients whose
"quality of life" is deemed too low, the Daily Telegraph
"There are severe pressures on beds and in order
to relieve this there may be a tendency to limit care inappropriately where you
feel doubtful about the outcome," Dr. Adrian Treloar told the Telegraph.
"Are the elderly being served properly? No, they are not getting what
they deserve and I think they are being sold short. If old people start to
resist early discharge they are seen as an encumbrance."
Other doctors have seen this firsthand.
"I have witnessed doctors who want to keep beds
clear by withdrawing treatment or actively assisted in death to the point where
it becomes involuntary euthanasia," Dr. Rita Pal told the London Times.
She told of one case where a doctor ordered medications withdrawn from an
89-year-old stroke patient, who was conscious but unable to speak.
"This man was actually conscious and could hear
us," Dr. Pal said. "The doctor said, 'We need the bedstop all his
medication.' They stopped the medication and at about 9:30 p.m. he started
getting short of breath. I held his hand and said, 'You will be all right.' I
was sickened by the whole episode." The Times reported that Dr. Pal
disobeyed orders and gave the patient medication to help him breathe, but the
Members of 78-year-old William Heaford's family told
their story to the Telegraph. Heaford entered the Royal Oldham Hospital
after falling and cutting his head. He had to wait with a bleeding head more
than four hours to be examined.
Once he was admitted to the hospital, he quickly began
to lose weight. His family told the Telegraph that "when nursing
staff brought his food they left it out of reach and did not help him to cut it
up or eat it."
When they complained about this and other evidence of
neglect, hospital staff told them, "Your father is not the first priority
on this ward, there are other patients that come before him you know," the Telegraph
reported. Heaford died on February 16, 1999, five weeks after admission to the
Even British supporters of assisted suicide admitted
that these abuses are occurring. Michael Irwin, chair of Doctors for Assisted
Dying, examined the records of 86-year-old Olwen Gibbings, who died in 1996 of
According to the Telegraph, her medical notes
included a DNR order and showed that she received infusions of diamorphine, a
heroin-based painkiller, which neither she nor her family authorized.
"Having carefully reviewed all the documentation
you have sent me," Irwin told Gibbings's daughter, Olwyn Bowen, according
to the Telegraph, "I believe that involuntary euthanasia was
performed on Mrs. Gibbings.
"In the U.K. there is every indication that both
involuntary euthanasia and non-voluntary euthanasiadeath brought about on an
individual who has no capacity to understand what is really involved . . .
happen much more frequently."
Once families of elderly patients who received
questionable care came forward, relatives of patients with disabilities also
began to speak out. Carol Glass, whose 12-year-old son David has cerebral palsy,
told the Telegraph that doctors at St. Mary's Hospital in Portsmouth
ordered that David should be given diamorphine and a DNR order and left to
"die with dignity" when he was admitted with a chest infection.
Mrs. Glass did not know about this decision until she
insisted on seeing her son's medical notes, according to the Telegraph.
David survived his hospital stay, and his mother now cares for him at home.
Unfortunately, not all parents are successful in
reversing doctors' decisions to let a patient with a disability die. A family
who asked not to be identified told the Mirror that their 18-month-old
daughter died in a hospital after doctors refused to help her breathe with a
ventilator or give her antibiotics.
"Her parents tried to reverse this decision in the
courts," a spokeswoman for Mencap, a mental health charity, told the Mirror,
"but the judge said that, because she could not raise her head off the
pillow, her life was not worth saving."
Concerned Britons formed a group called SOS-NHS
Patients in Danger to monitor and try to stop these abuses. Spokeswoman Julia
Quenzler told the Telegraph that her group is planning to sue the
government for failing to protect vulnerable citizens.
"We are hearing from more families whose children
were denied treatment for no other reason than that they were disabled, and
strangers decided they had no quality of life," she said. "They had no
Member of Parliament Ann Winterton introduced a bill in
late 1999 intended to "halt the slide towards the acceptance and practice
of euthanasia by making it clear to doctors that they cannot intentionally bring
about the death of their patients by action or omission," the Telegraph reported.
The House of Commons debated the bill on April 14, but those opposing the bill
became very vocal and the allotted time for debate ran out. It was then placed
in a long line of bills waiting for future debate, meaning it has "almost
no chance of becoming law," according to the BBC.
"The terrifying cases coming out of Great Britain
should serve as a warning to us in the United States both of the dangers of
rationing, and of legalizing direct killing as euthanasia," said Burke
Balch, NRLC director of medical ethics. "Rationing imposed by managed care
organizations or by some Medicare restructuring proposals could easily make such
discriminatory denials of lifesaving treatment, and even food and fluids denials
that are already occurring here as common in America as in the U.K."
UK LEAPS TOWARD INVOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA
LONDON, UK, Dec 10 (LSN) – In shocking succession yesterday England's Royal College of Physicians and the British Government sanctioned involuntary euthanasia.
The Electronic Telegraph reported that the College told doctors they were justified in withholding "treatment, " which includes killing patients by withholding food and water. The Government added fuel to the fire today with a radical proposal to allow doctors to decide, even against the wishes of next of kin to starve their patients to death.
Under the new medical guidelines, doctors may decide to euthanize patients (by withholding food and water) if "the patient has devastating and permanent neurological injury which is so incompatible with conscious, self-directed activity as to constitute a demonstrably awful life." Further, the guidelines said there should be agreement by relatives of the patient about the decision to "withhold treatment", but the consultant in charge should take the ultimate decision, possibly after taking legal advice.
In a green paper from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, presented to both Houses of Parliament today, the establishment of a Court of Protection with expanded powers was proposed.
Instead of family, the paper suggests that people who cannot make decisions for themselves should be placed under the authority of an independent doctor or a court-appointed manager. Thus the family could be forced to accept medical decisions which include "sterilisation, organ donation, abortion, electro- convulsive therapy and the withdrawal of artificial feeding."
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