Thursday, July 28, 2005

Mixed-up Ethics

God forbid I am ever in a situation like that faced by Leslie Burke. Knowing that your death is imminently inevitable, and that it will occur after your faculties have disappeared, must be one of the most awful things that can happen to anyone. The distress caused must be compounded further when you know you will still be able to think, still be able to feel pain, and yet have no power whatsoever over your own life and death.

Leslie Burke, 45, who has a degenerative brain condition, fears artificial nutrition could be stopped against his wishes when he cannot talk.
Mr Burke, from Lancaster, had won a landmark ruling, supporting his right to artificial nutrition and hydration.
But the GMC appealed, saying doctors could be put in an impossible position.

What happened to the Hippocratic Oath and the need to do all that you could to preserve life?

Perhaps more relevantly, though, why is this sort of action considered acceptable, when voluntary euthanasia is not? I don't have a strong view one way or the other, to be honest, although to be in a position where I was starved to death would scare me greatly. That said, I believe that people should have the right to die with dignity; if they so choose, to avoid a descent into a state of total physical incapacity, there is a compelling argument for living wills allowing for euthanasia and a dignified death.

It is surely totally bizarre that should Mr Burke want to die with dignity now, the law would prevent him from choosing to do so, yet were he to want to stay alive when unable to make his wishes known, the doctors could force the opposite. That, to my mind, is a known killing, and tantamount to murder. Mr Burke has made it clear he does not want to be starved to death; that is surely a fundamental right in a free society?

There is a clear logical inconsistency here. Either knowingly taking action that will kill a person is wrong, or it isn't. If doctors can make that decision when a person is physically incapacitated, why can a person not make that decision for themselves? Or, alternatively, withdrawing food in such a fashion is wrong, and no-one, patient, doctor, or next of kin can give the say-so.