Friday, May 4, 2012

Ventilator case in the UK is not about euthanasia or assisted suicide. It is about the right to refuse treatment.

The case of XB in the UK, a case of a man with motor neuron disease who appears to want to have his respirator withdrawn, is not a "right to die" case, it does not extend the right to withdraw treatment and it does not lead to the acceptance of euthanasia or assisted suicide in the UK.

The question was whether or not the living will, that his wife wrote on his behalf, was valid. UK law acknowledges the right to refuse Life-Sustaining Treatment.

Justice Theis decided that a living will that the wife of a man known as XB supposedly agreed to, was a valid living will.

An article written by Steve Doughty and published in the Mail online stated:
The court heard that during 2010 and 2011 he discussed what life-sustaining treatment – artificial ventilation, or artificial nutrition, the provision of food and water by tube – he should receive in future. 
He had, the court was told, indicated that he would wish the treatment to be withdrawn. In November last year the man’s wife downloaded a living will form from the internet. Her husband consented to the advance decision by blinking to his wife and the witnesses who included a doctor, a social worker and a carer. 
Another carer, however, raised concerns over whether the father had really ‘communicated his agreement’. Under the Mental Capacity Act, living wills are supposed to be written. However, the documents are still recognised if the individual concerned indicates their decision in front of witnesses, and allows somebody to sign on their behalf in front of witnesses. 
Mrs Justice Theis said it had been established that the carer who raised concerns in the XB case had not been present when his advance decision was agreed. However she said it was important that advance decisions were prepared with clarity and said health authorities should investigate concerns urgently.
Therefore the issue was not about whether XB had the right to have the ventilator withdrawn and the issue was not about whether or not XB has a "right to die" but the issue concerned the validity of the living will that was written by the wife of XB and approved by XB through a series of blinks.

The right to refuse medical treatment is not the same as giving a person a lethal dose to intentionally cause their death.

We need to be careful not to compare issues of withdrawing life sustaining medical treatment with euthanasia, assisted suicide or a "right to die."

The court needs to protect people who are highly dependent on others. We believe that cases of withdrawing life-sustaining treatment or care should be treated with great caution because if the person is being controlled by others, the outcome may be lethal.

This is why the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition distributes the Life-Protecting Power of Attorney for Personal Care.

The question remains, did the decision by Justice Theis put XB, and other vulnerable people, into a position where they will be more easily abused by family members or friends. Living wills documents can result in the discrimination of people with disabilities or people with progressive chronic conditions by family members.

EPC is also concerned about how the decision by Justice Theis may lead to more people, who are not otherwise dying, being dehydrated to death or being denied basic care, based on too low a standard for writing living will or power of attorney documents.

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