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Euro Court Refuses To Guarantee Ill British Man Won’t Be Dehydrated to Death

LifeSiteNews.com

By Hilary White
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Leslie BurkeLANCASTER, August 9, 2006 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Leslie Burke, a 46 year-old Lancaster man suffering from a degenerative neurological disease, has no reason to fear that he will be dehydrated to death when his illness renders him unable to speak.

The court has rejected Burke’s attempt to ensure that he will not be dehydrated or starved to death in the final stages of his ultimately fatal illness. This in spite of the growing number of instances of death by dehydration in Britain and abroad – most notably the dehydration death of Terri Schindler-Schiavo in 2005 – and the growth in influence in Britain of the euthanasia movement.
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  Burke had taken his fight all the way through the British court system, which ruled last year in favour of the General Medical Council (GMC). The GMC argued that it must reserve the right to dehydrate patients to death at a doctor’s discretion. Burke argued that GMC guidelines left too much latitude to individual doctors to decide when a patient’s life was no longer worth living.
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  The European court has ruled that there are adequate protections in British law against the premature removal of “artificial nutrition and hydration.”
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  Burke told the BBC, however, that he had no confidence in the assurances of the British public health system in which doctors regularly decide that continuing a person’s life is no longer in his “best interests”.
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“I only hope that if I am lucky enough to be in hospital, that the doctors treating me will not believe at some stage that it will be in my best interests for ANH to be withdrawn,” Burke said.
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  Britain, with a number of European countries, classifies nutrition and hydration as “medical treatment” that can be withdrawn at a doctor or a patient’s request, when life no longer seems sustainable. Anti-euthanasia activists warn that this ethics policy, added to the pressure of increasingly cash-strapped socialized medical systems looking for ways to remove patients from beds, places the onus on vulnerable patients to prove that their lives should be sustained.
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  While Mr. Burke was fighting in the British courts for his right to life, a bioethics expert for the British Department of Health, Elizabeth Woodeson, filed a brief with the appeals court saying that Burke’s request of a guarantee undermines the authority of doctors to make the “clinical judgment,” according to the government-approved guidelines.
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  Woodeson said the government had established National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), a bioethics think tank, to create guidelines for cases such as Mr. Burke’s, based partly on economic considerations.
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  Woodeson, wrote, “An assessment is made of the cost of the treatment per additional year of life which it brings, and per quality adjusted life year (QALY)...which takes into consideration the quality of life of the patient during any additional time for which their life will be prolonged. The clinical and cost effectiveness of the treatment under review is then used as the basis for a recommendation as to whether or not…the treatment should be provided in the NHS.”
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  The government’s conclusion was that it should be free to follow the NICE guidelines, “without being obliged to accede to patient demands…If that principle were undermined, there would be considerable risk of inefficient use of NHS resources.”
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  The head of Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, Alex Schadenberg told LifeSiteNews.com that the European court “erred significantly,” and that with this decision, patients all over Europe are at risk.
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“Leslie Burke was fighting not only for himself, but for others. He was trying to set a precedent that if you did not want to die that you had the right to make sure of that,” Schadenberg said.
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  Schadenberg said that it is the longstanding custom in medicine that doctors can withhold treatment that they consider futile or burdensome and that there does come a point when a patient who is very close to death can no longer assimilate food or water.
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  The problem now is that doctors are no longer required to limit that judgement to purely medical considerations. “Modern bioethics philosophy has rejected the concept of purely medical futility. The treatment is not considered futile; the patient is considered futile,” Schadenberg said.
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  Read previous LifeSiteNews.com coverage:

  UK Court Rules Doctors May Withdraw Life-Sustaining Food and Water
https://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2005/jul/05072807.html

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