Burke Wins Court Challenge Over Feeding Tube Rule
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
June 30, 2004
LONDON, ENGLAND--Leslie Burke has won a victory in Britain's High Court that will likely save his life, and affect the lives of patients with terminal illnesses and people with disabilities who cannot tell others their wishes about their treatment.
The court ruled Friday that the General Medical Council must rewrite its guidelines directing doctors on when they can remove feeding tubes from patients.
Under GMC guidelines published last year, doctors need to seek court permission before disconnecting feeding tubes from patients considered to be in a "permanent vegetative state". The rules, however, allow doctors to end such artificial feeding without court approval for patients with other medical conditions.
Burke has cerebellar ataxia, a brain condition that is expected to get worse over time. Burke, 44, wanted the GMC to make changes before he is no longer able to speak for himself. He said he was afraid that doctors could decide his "quality of life" was so poor it would not be worth keeping him alive.
Burke argued that the guidelines violate both British and European human rights law because they give doctors the power to withdraw needed medical treatment without the patients' input and without court oversight.
The court sided with Burke, and told the GMC it needed to rewrite the guidelines to reflect the desires of patients and their families.
"There have been times when I have found this quite painful, especially emotionally but it has all been worthwhile," Burke told the BBC.
"I am quite happy at the moment as you can imagine."
"Patient wins right-to-life ruling" (BBC News)
"Analysis: Right to life ruling" by disability affairs reporter Geoff Adams-Spink (BBC News)