Elderly Woman Rescued by Family from NHS Dehydration Order
By Hilary White
BIRMINGHAM, UK, July 2, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – “Ellen Westwood was due to die in February but her family’s Catholic and for them, life is sacred.” So begins the television coverage by the BBC of a battle by a Birmingham family to prevent the NHS from dehydrating their mother to death.
According to the BBC’s report, doctors decided on a Friday in February that Mrs. Westwood was “due to die” by the following Monday, but the family, with the intervention of their priest, fought the order to remove the woman’s hydration.
Mrs. Ellen Westwood, 88, was in Birmingham’s Selly Oak Hospital for two months after she had been admitted into Birmingham’s Royal Orthopaedic Hospital for routine shoulder surgery. The woman ended up being treated for dementia and C.difficile, which Westwood’s daughter alleges she contracted at the Orthopaedic Hospital after the surgery. The bacterial infection soon spread to her cheeks, face and throat, making it difficult for her to swallow.
Doctors at Selly Oak Hospital then told the family that all food, fluids and hydration were to be stopped and that Mrs. Westwood would be given morphine “because she is dying”.
Ellen’s daughter, Kathleen Westwood, told the BBC that the decision had been taken because it was “a capacity ruling” and that under current UK law, the family’s wishes do not enter into the equation.
“If you deem somebody to have lost capacity, then the doctors can act in the best interests,” she said.
The family had an interview with doctors on a Friday afternoon, in which they were told that Mrs. Westwood was going to die.
“In [the doctors’] view the best interests was for my mother to die – and clearly by Monday she would have been dead,” Kathleen told BBC.
The family, however, brought the woman food and water. Hospital officials responded by threatening to report the family to social services for feeding Mrs. Westwood.
“We said we don’t want this to happen and they said ‘it’s happening, sorry’. I had to fight very, very hard to get it stopped.”
Eventually the family obtained a second opinion and Mrs. Westwood was able to go home, where she is recovering well and is celebrating her 89th birthday today.
A statement from the NHS said, “We have met with the family and are investigating these issues via our normal internal channels.” The NHS has said that it followed national guidelines in making its decision.
Under the UK’s Mental Capacity Act, passed in 2005, patients deemed to be incapable of making decisions in their own “best interests” can have all fluids withheld until they die. The family can do little to stop this process once doctors have made their decision.
While active euthanasia officially remains illegal in Britain, some are saying that the NHS standard procedure of issuing elderly and vulnerable patients with an “end of life plan” that includes dehydration, is simply euthanasia under a different name. And it is becoming common. A packed meeting this week in Stafford organised by a group called Cure the NHS, heard the stories of families who had been forced to bring in priests and lawyers to stop similar orders from killing their loved ones, even though the patients sometimes are not terminally ill.
Pro-life advocates in Britain deplored the Labour government’s “Mental Capacity” legislation, calling it “the end of the Hippocratic tradition of medical ethics in Britain”. In January 2005, Baroness Chapman, a disabled peer, said that the Mental Capacity bill failed to make patients safe and left them open to abuse. Speaking during the House of Lords second reading debate on the bill, she said, “The bill ignores the fact that people have a basic right to life.”