British Disability Groups Condemn Health Secretary Over Opposition
To Burke's Right To Live
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
May 24, 2005
LONDON, ENGLAND--Disability rights groups are criticizing a decision by health secretary Patricia Hewitt to oppose a patient's right to have requests for life-prolonging treatment honored.
According the Guardian, Hewitt's lawyers told Britain's court of appeal last week that granting patients the right to keep doctors from withdrawing artificial nutrition or hydration would lead them to demand other life-prolonging treatments -- and to misuse National Health Service (NHS) resources.
The Disability Rights Commission's David Wolfe told the court: "The DRC considers it deeply offensive and patronizing for the GMC (General Medical Council) and secretary of state for health to suggest that a doctor should be able to overrule the view of a disabled person with capacity on what is in their best interest."
"The DRC is also concerned that doctors taking decisions about disabled people who lack capacity should not simply be given the widest discretion and be guided by the loosest principle and guidance in doing so."
The health secretary is backing the GMC in its appeal of a High Court ruling last summer that directed doctors to seek court permission before disconnecting feeding tubes from patients with certain medical conditions.
That ruling was considered a victory for Leslie Burke and others with terminal illnesses and severe disabilities who may not be able to express their wishes regarding their treatment.
Burke, 45, has cerebellar ataxia, a brain condition that is expected to get worse over time. Burke wanted the GMC to make changes to their policies 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.
The ruling in his favor was viewed by the medical profession as a major -- and potentially expensive -- change in how such people are treated.
"Hewitt condemned over right to life case" (The Guardian)
"British Medical Group Challenges Burke "Right To Live" Ruling" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)