British Survey: Public Favors Right to Live in Euthanasia Cases (2005)

A survey conducted by a doctors group finds that the British public favors allowing patients to receive food and water if they have asked in advance not to have it removed. The polling results are similar to those in a recent survey conducted in the USA. First Do No Harm, a coalition of doctors and physicians who oppose euthanasia, conducted the poll of 1,000 people and found 77 percent thought patients who made a previous request to have food and water should not be deprived of it regardless of the views of doctors or family members. The survey also looked at the case of Leslie Burke, a patient with a degenerative brain condition. Burke won a case at the British High Court because he feared that doctors would refuse to provide him wanted food and water when his condition deteriorates to the point that he has to receive nourishment through a feeding tube. Current British Medical Association ethical guidelines permit doctors to stop tube-supplied nutrition/hydration if they believe the patient’s quality of life is poor, leading to eventual death. The poll found only one-third of respondents favored guidelines for doctors allowing them to withhold food and water from patients who can’t make their own medical decisions. [London, LifeNews.com,...

Dying, Burke’s Legal Victory Last Year Overturned (2005)

A man who is terminally ill and fears that doctors may allow him to die of thirst said he was “disappointed” after the Court of Appeal overturned an earlier judgment in his favour. Last July, the British High Court granted a landmark court challenge by Leslie Burke, 45, and declared that key sections of General Medical Council (GMC) guidelines regarding tube feeding, hydration, and withdrawal of life-prolonging treatment were unlawful. Burke, a wheelchair user with cerebellar ataxia, a degenerative nervous system disorder, had feared that, once he could no longer swallow and communicate, doctors would decide that his “quality of life” was no longer sufficient to warrant his receiving food and fluids through a tube. High Court Judge Munby agreed with Burke and ordered the GMC to revise its guidelines to indicate that doctors must provide food and fluids to a competent patient who requests them, as well as to an incompetent patient with an advance request for such treatment. [www.internationaltaskforce.org/iua30.htm] But 28July05, three appeal judges allowed an appeal by the GMC, backed by the British government, against the ruling, setting aside 6 declarations by the trial judge. Permission to appeal was refused. At the time of the appeal hearing, Burke explained that he is not asking for radical treatment to extend his life. “I just do not want to effectively die of starvation and thirst which may take up to two weeks. I want as far as possible to be able to approach the end of my life with dignity.” [Gulf Daily News 17May05] Lawyer Philip Sales, representing Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, told the panel of 3 appellate...