BMJ editorial sparks controversy over right-to-life
18 July 2012
An editorial article published in the British Medical Journal on 12 July 2012 (subscription required) has provoked controversy in right-to-life circles. The article, entitled “Sanctity of life law has gone too far” criticises the ruling of Baker J in the “M” case where an application to authorise the removal of artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) from a patient in a minimally concscious state was refused. This blog reported on the M judgment in September 2011 here, here and here.
The author of the BMJ article, Dr Raanan Gillon, Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics at Imperial College London (who describes himself as “a hybrid GP and philosopher”) takes Baker J to task for not according significant weight to the informally expressed views of M on life-sustaining treatment, expressed before she came ill. More widely, Dr Gillon questions the implications of the judgment for decisions about the best interests of patients whose state of consciousness is higher than minimal. Most controversial of Dr Gillon’s comments is likely to be his conclusion on the resource implications of the approach to best interests of incapacitated patients, which is put in the following terms:
“The logical implications of this judgment threaten to skew the delivery of severely resource limited healthcare services towards providing non-beneficial or minimally beneficial life prolonging treatments including artificial nutrition and hydration to thousands of severely demented patients whose families and friends believe they would not have wanted such treatment. The opportunity cost will probably be reduced provision of indisputably beneficial treatments to people who do want them.”
This has been paraphrased by one commentator as a call to “Dehydrate dementia patients to death to save money”.
Dr Gillon concludes that “Unless this judgment is overturned or modified by a higher court it will gradually and detrimentally distort healthcare provision, healthcare values, and common sense.”
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