Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Freedom of Doctors to Save Lives Limited in U.K.

The Hippocratic Oath, known by the name of the father of modern medicine who lived from 460 to 380 BC, is regarded as the gold standard of medical ethics.

The original oath said: 'I will not give a fatal draught to anyone if I am asked, nor will I suggest any such thing.'

Question: What does it mean when a government law forces a doctor to kill a patient even when the doctor desires and is fully capable of saving the patient's life?

Answer: It means the freedom to practice medicine has been denied the doctor, and the right of citizens to live free from coersion to die has been lost.

Below are excerpts from London's Evening Standard:

Dire warning: Lord Falconer says doctors could face jail for denying right to die
November 17, 2006

The Lord Chancellor has warned doctors they risk going on trial for assault if they refuse to allow patients who have made 'living wills' to die.

Lord Falconer's message to the medical profession told doctors and nurses that new laws will require them to end lives rather than save them.

Those who decline to do so will face jail or, alternatively, big compensation claims in the courts.
Critics say that for this reason the new law amounts to the introduction of euthanasia through the back door.

The warning over damages claims raises the prospect that family or friends of a patient who have a financial interest in their death could sue a doctor who fails to kill them. It also opens the bizarre possibility that a patient who recovers could sue a doctor for not letting them die.

The ministerial guidance on the Mental Capacity Act comes in a week when the influential Nuffield Council on Bioethics recommended that premature babies born at 22 weeks or earlier should not be resuscitated, a suggestion that led to fears that the life-saving efforts of doctors will be bound by inflexible rules.

Now the guidelines on living wills has led, critics said, to the shadow of euthanasia over both ends of life.

The Health Department also made clear in a court case last year that decisions on whether to provide a patient with life-saving treatment - such as provision of artificial nutrition and hydration - can be influenced by the cost of providing treatment.

Academic lawyer Dr Jacqueline Laing of London Metropolitan University said: 'Many people will have filled in advance decision forms in ignorance of their lethal implications and of alternative courses of action. 'The Act inverts good medical practice by criminalizing medical staff who intervene to save the lives of their patients with simple cures and, in certain cases, even food and fluids. Any conscientious opt-out is nullified by the threat of prosecution.'

She added: 'The lethal direction of the Act and the cost-saving implications for the NHS should be obvious.'