Many U.K. Families are Not Told When Doctors Deny Loved Ones Treatment, Report Has Found

According to a new report, more than a quarter of U.K. families are not told when their loved ones are taken off of life support, reports the Daily Mail.  Researchers from the Royal College of Physicians and the Marie Curie Palliative Care Institute in Liverpool conducted an audit of 4,000 patients put on the Liverpool Care Pathway, the end-of-life care plan that has brought 'slow' euthanasia into Britain through the back door.

The Pathway, approved by the National Health Service (NHS), allows doctors to deny "treatment," including food and water, to patients they deem incurable and put them in continuous deep sedation until they die.  According to the Daily Mail, this protocol is used in 300 hospitals and 560 care homes across the country.

According to the report, 28 percent of the patients' relatives were not told that their loved one had been put on the pathway.  In fact, doctors are not required by law to consult patients' families - Britain's 2005 Mental Capacity Act has given them the power to make decisions on behalf of patients who they deem mentally incapable without requiring them to heed the wishes of patients' families.  Social services and police have even been called to intervene in certain cases where families attempt to save the lives of their loved ones.

Peter Millard, emeritus professor of geriatrics at the University of London, confirmed other reports that the protocol is being used to kill patients that are not actually dying.  "The risk as this is rolled out across the country is that elderly people with chronic conditions like Parkinson's or respiratory disorders may be dismissed as dying when they could still live for some time," he told the Daily Mail.  "Discussions about the future of patients are being bypassed; the supportive nature of hospitals has gone. We are hearing complaints from all round the country.

"Governments have got rid of respite care and geriatric wards, so we're left with a crisis," he continued.  "The Government has said let's develop a service to help people die at home - what they should be doing is helping them live. Only when death is unavoidable should you start withdrawing treatment."

"The problem is that there isn't enough discussion between doctors and patients and their relatives," he said.  "Nobody is talking to them."

The average age of the 4,000 patients audited was 81.  Thirty-nine per cent had cancer, and others had conditions such as dementia, stroke, pneumonia, organ failure, and dementia.  Patients averaged 33 hours on the pathway before death.

The BBC reported last month that continuous deep sedation is increasingly being used by U.K. doctors to slowly euthanize their patients.  The practice of continuous deep sedation is estimated to be associated with 16.5 percent of all deaths in the country.

While, according to Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg, the practice of deep sedation can legitimately be used to alleviate pain in certain extreme cases, he also warns that it "can be a backdoor route to euthanasia if it is used unethically."  Schadenberg told last month that "a good palliative care physician won't use the technique very often."

Contact: Patrick B. Craine
Publish Date: September 15, 2009
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