Sunday, July 06, 2008

NHS Meltdown: Elderly Woman Starved Rather Than Cared for to Save Money?

I have heard rumors of stories like this from my contacts in the UK, but have not posted on it because that is what they were: Rumors. But now, the BBC has reported that a care facility might have tried to starve an elderly woman to save money. From the story:

Ellen Westwood, 88, was in Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital for two months being treated for dementia and C.difficile, which she had previously contracted. Her daughter Kathleen Westwood said the hospital decided in February it was in her "best interests" to halt fluids and nutrition--a move the family opposed...

Ms Westwood said she and her father were called into a room at Selly Oak Hospital on 8 February and told doctors had decided to withdraw all fluids, food and hydration.

They said they had begun giving Mrs Westwood morphine "because she is dying". She said: "Because of this capacity ruling, if you deem somebody to have lost capacity, then the doctors can act in the best interests. "Well in their view the best interests was for my mother to die--and clearly by Monday she would have been dead."

The facility said the doctors followed the national guidelines. Maybe they did! The surrealistically named National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence--that goes by the equally surrealistic acronym NICE--the bioethics advisers (overlords) of the NHS is very utilitarian and it wouldn't be surprising if the guidelines did call for such an involuntary dehydration. Indeed, in its legal brief in the Leslie Burke case, NICE wanted doctors to have the say whether he was dehydrated to death even though he sued to prevent that type of death. (The UK Lords eventually ruled that doctors decide if the patient is unconscious or unable to communicate.)

We shouldn't look down our noses in America. We have our own bioethicists pushing the old quality of life agenda, although they don't have the institutional power of NICE. Our job is to make sure that they never get it.


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