e-mail gill@willtolive.co.uk

 Why do Patients Need Protecting

Death caused by dehydration is a horrible prospect.  Baroness Knight of Collingtree said, during the second reading of the Patient Protection Bill, “One lady said that her mother had been begging for a drink and she gave her a wet sponge on a piece of stick. Her mother grabbed the sponge and she saw that her teeth were stuck to the flesh inside her mouth. Another lady whose husband was desperately asking to be given a drink thought that there was some medical reason why he could not have fluid and did not give him one. When he died, it was found that his tongue was rolled back in his mouth. I hate to contemplate the suffering that must have been caused to those people.”

Sedation is said to alleviate the trauma but these two patients obviously weren’t given enough. However if sedation is used in high enough doses it can leave patients incapacitated and open to abuse.  Lord Swinfen said “Patient groups such as SOS-NHS are especially concerned about the increasingly common practice of sedating patients and then deliberately withholding nutrition and hydration until the patient dies. Having been sedated, the patient is unable to demand sustenance and his or her distress may not be readily apparent.”

The justification for the withdrawal and withholding of sustenance is to stop life being prolonged unnecessarily.  In other words we want to stop our doctors keeping people alive just because they can.  Yet if all the patient needs is a different way to be given the same things that every human and animal on earth needs to stay alive is it right for it to be denied?

It needs to be very clearly recognised that however clever doctors have become they do not know everything.  They sometimes get prognoses very wrong.  They just don’t know how any one person is going to react or interact with treatment.  Also the patient’s personality, the environment they come from and the people around them may help them to get over, partially recover from, or to give up altogether, after severe injury or long term illness. Persistant Vegetative State is a classic example.  It is regarded as a no hope condition yet patients have come through it after five years where their families have fought to keep them alive.

Why do doctors regard the withdrawing of sustenance as an important tool in the treatment of seriously ill and dying patients? 

It helps doctors and relatives to conveniently round up an elderly patient’s life. It solves bed blocking by removing patients that the medical staff can do nothing for.
It may be a way for a cash strapped NHS to service a population with an expanding older sector that is more dependent on its services. It could release a patient from a life of suffering and hopelessness even if that way of dying is full of both
It certainly ties up the minimum of resources  

But are any of these good enough reasons for sending vulnerable people through hell before they die?

There may have been a tendency for doctors to show how clever medical science had got by cheating death as much and as often as they could in the middle of the last century.  But this has gone since the Bland case and a financially orientated regime has encapsulated the NHS and the pendulum has now swung too far the other way. Please help to stop these practices.

The 2nd Reading of the Patient Protection Bill can be found in Hansard, for 12th March,2003 Column1402 and online at:-