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Monday, May 16, 2005

Right to Life

On the Today Programme this morning I heard a little about this case where the General Medical Council is appealing against a decision in which a man with a brain disorder won the right to prevent doctors deciding whether it was time to stop any possible future nutrition. He originally went to court because he foresaw a time when he would be needing nutrition - but not life support - to still live, when doctors might decide to pull the feeing tube, and he would therefore be concious of starvation.

The General Medical Council are appealing apparently for 'clarification'. There may or may not be a good argument there, but personally I imagine the real reason the GMC is appealing is because they resent the fact someone took them on and won.

I am, of course, prejudiced against the GMC in this as that august body seems to take a dim view of peoples' right to life. Also, from a on-the-ground perspective it seems a willing conniver in the view that elderly patients, or those with advanced conditions, are not worth treating. The phrase "appropriate treatment" to me hides a number of medical sins. After all, most people follow their doctors' advice. They trust them, on the whole. As I heard one doctor, for whom i have a great deal of respect, quite openly say (I paraphrase) "95% of the time a patient will arrive at the decision you want them to, because of what and how you tell them".

An example of what I mean, on the Today Programme there was one pro-GMC doctor who was saying that providing of a feeding tube could have side effects, and possible cause heart failure in at risk patients. I accept that, but what the interviewer did not ask, and what seemed blindingly obvious to me, is that surely one should weigh the possible risk of heart complications next to the certain result of starvation? Or, in other words, that doctor is not one I would ever want to be in charge of my care, or the care of any of my friends of relatives.

Of course, what can one do? The NHS at the moment - hopefully Tony Blair will manage to get some changes through in this regard - remains a prison system to which we are forced to subscribe and obstacles are littered in your path if you try to break out. Now, if patients start being able to decide which doctors/hospitals to go to, and if they do away with the ridiculous geographical restrictions on getting certain treatments, then I might start to view the NHS in a more positive light.

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