By Hilary White

LONDON, October 30, 2009 ( – “Slow euthanasia by deep sedation” is a current reality in the British health care system, and not just a journalistic myth, a survey of UK doctors has revealed. The study found that continuous deep sedation (CDS) was more frequently requested by patients or relatives seeking a “hastened death” and was associated “with a greater incidence of other end-of-life decisions containing some intent to end life by the doctor”.

Under existing medical care protocols in the UK, patients who are designated as dying, can have food and hydration withdrawn until they die of dehydration, even when continued hydration can still be of medical benefit.

“Doctors supporting legalization of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, or who were nonreligious, were more likely to report using CDS,” the researchers found.

Published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, the survey also said that 18.7 per cent of the 2,923 doctors polled used CDS to keep patients unconscious for long periods to control pain, most often for those who were dying of cancer. Ethicists say that this use of CDS is legitimate if it is not in conjunction with premature withdrawal of hydration. The study also noted that “specialists in care of the elderly were least likely to report the use of CDS”.

Critics of the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), a widely used protocol for treating the terminally ill, have said that it is a “pathway to death” that presumes the intention to end the life of the patient. In September, after the publication of a letter by physicians warning that the LCP is hastening the death of patients who are often refused food and hydration, pro-life leaders in the UK said that through a combination of existing legislation and various end-of-life medical care protocols, euthanasia has been effectively made legal in the UK without any act of the government.

John Smeaton, Director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), Europe's leading pro-life organisation, told LSN, “We have a government policy of silent euthanasia right now in this country.

“This is being brought about through a number of different factors, but significantly the Mental Capacity Act of 2005, that formally defined the provision of food and fluids as medical treatment.”

Read related coverage:

Britain's Pathway to Euthanasia – NHS Protocols for Dehydrating Disabled Patients to Death

British Man Found Free of Cancer Dies after Hydration Removed


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