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Suing for the Right to Live

Wesley J. Smith

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Two cases of European doctors refusing to treat their patients are cause for concern: Futile Care Theory may be coming to America.

A little noticed litigation in the United Kingdom could be a harbinger of medical woes to come here in the United States. Leslie Burke, age 44, is suing for the right to stay alive. Yes, you read right: Burke, who has a terminal neurological disease, is deathly afraid that doctors will refuse to provide him wanted food and water when his condition deteriorates to the point that has to receive nourishment through a feeding tube.

Burke' fears are, quite rationally, based on current international legal and bioethical trends. Futile Care Theory, the bioethical maxim that gives doctors the right to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment based on their perception of the quality of their patient's life, has imbedded itself like barbed hook into British medical ethics and law. Indeed, current British Medical Association ethical guidelines permit doctors to stop tube-supplied nutrition and hydration if they believe the patient's quality of life is poor, leading to eventual death. In such cases, patients' or relatives' views on the matter must succumb to the medical and bioethical consensus.

Making matters worse for Burke, British courts previously stamped their imprimatur upon Futile Care Theory, bringing with it the terrifying prospect that Burke will be denied wanted life-sustaining treatment. Indeed, a previous lawsuit involving a disabled child already granted doctors the final say as to whether the boy lives or is abandoned to death through the denial of resuscitating treatment.

Read this entire article on the Weekly Standard website.

Posted: 3/14/04



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