Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Will This Be Spun as a Right-to-Die Case?

We can preserve life, we can preserve patient autonomy, or we can preserve neither. There is a current case in Britain (seen via Hyscience):

THIS WEEK Leslie Burke sat in court in a wheelchair and listened while lawyers argued whether he should be starved and dehydrated to death. The lawyers arguing in favour of the proposition were egged on by the Secretary of State for Health, who deemed it too expensive to feed and water the ailing patient.

The General Medical Council was contending before the court that decisions over treatment were for doctors, not patients, ignoring utterly the provisions of the Mental Capacity Act which allow patients to make living wills denying themselves treatment and which will bind any doctor who might take a different view. In other words, a patient may choose to die and his wishes will be paramount but if he chooses to live he is to be deemed an expensive impediment to the authority of the medical profession. Of course, the Hippocratic oath is no longer automatically required, so it is possible for these doctors to look Mr Burke in the eye and tell him that it is their right to starve him to death.

This is also an illustration of why it's a poor idea to try for a large-scale solution for a problem. Such solutions can go awry. It's much better to try a solution out on a small scale first:

I emphasise again that the issue here is food and fluid, not some esoteric and complicated medical procedure. We are not talking about assisting someone to breathe but merely refusing to starve him. Throughout the passage of the Mental Capacity Bill in Parliament the argument was put forward strongly in both Houses that it should be made explicit that food and fluid do not constitute treatment. The Government adamantly refused. We can now see why, but none of us could have predicted the speed with which the effects would be realised: the Bill was passed immediately before Parliament dissolved for the election and now, less than a month later, a minister says that it is too costly to administer basic sustenance to the dying.

During the passage of that damnable Bill we thought we were talking about the possible withdrawal of food and fluid from the unconscious (as in the case of Tony Bland, the Hillsborough victim who remained locked in a coma) or from those who could no longer take a decision because of mental incapacity. That had implications enough but never in our wildest nightmares did we suppose that a mentally competent man in a wheelchair would have to fight for the right not to be starved.

I noticed that one of the complaints by the left during the Schiavo controversy was that conservatives weren't putting forth a general-purpose bill. I think we know enough to not throw the other side into the briar patch.

Addendum: In possibly-related news


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