The Government today intervened directly in a right-to-life case being heard at the Court of Appeal with a message to judges that giving patients the right to demand lfe-prolonging treatment would have "very serious implications" for the National Health Service.
The General Medical Council is trying to overturn a ruling in favour of Leslie Burke, a 45-year-old former postman with a degenerative brain condition, who last year won the right to stop doctors withdrawing artificial nutrition or hydration (ANH) treatment until he dies naturally.
Philip Sales, representing Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, told the court today that if a right to ANH was established, patients would be able to demand other life-prolonging treatments.
Apparently, this is a Bad Thing. For some reason.
Mr Sales said that under current GMC guidelines to doctors, a competent patient was entitled to decide between the treatment options offered to him by his doctor.
"But the patient cannot require his doctor to offer him any treatment option which, in the doctor’s view, is not clinically appropriate ...
Fair enough. Nothing controversial or unreasonable there.
... or which cannot be offered for other reasons - having regard to the efficient allocation of resources within the NHS."
What the fuck?
The GMC can now join that long and depressing list of misleadingly named organisations. They aren't a general medical council. A general medical council would be concerned with medical issues. The GMC have decided that funding trumps medicine. They clearly now see themselves as subservient to the NHS which is interesting, as they also assert control over private practices.
Any argument about whether the rich get better healthcare in the UK has been well and truly settled, anyway. If you go to see a private doctor, they will recommend treatments based on what's appropriate for your condition. If you go to see an NHS doctor, they will recommend treatments based on what's appropriate for your condition, unless those treatments are considered an inefficient use of NHS resources. If a treatment would save your life but would be too expensive for the government, the GMC want your doctor not even to tell you about it.
Mr Burke, of Mardale Road, Lancaster, who suffers from cerebellar ataxia, was in court in his wheelchair today listening to the arguments for overturning the ruling which he believes will save him from death by starvation, or thirst if ANH was withdrawn after he loses the ability to communicate.
Mr Burke had to go to court today and listen to his doctors arguing for the right to starve him to death as soon as he loses the ability to communicate. He had to watch the government step in to back his doctors up. This system, we are repeatedly told, is the envy of the world. Which bit are people envious of, exactly? Is it the being killed or the watching people explain how they're going to kill you first?
I wrote here about living wills, which are not currently legally binding in the UK:
There are plenty of people here in Britain who, were I comatose, would presume to speak on my behalf, despite never having known me; plenty of people who would earnestly tell my doctors that what I really wanted was death. And who knows where British law is headed?
Well, now we see where British law is heading: the General "Medical" Council are trying to pre-empt any recognition of living wills in this country by establishing a principle that patients may not make decisions about their own treatment and, just as in the Schiavo case, the doctors are insisting that giving a patient food and water is medical treatment. Our doctors and our Government are fighting in court to assert their "right" not to give patients the treatment they ask for. If you make a living will, they want the "right" to ignore it if they think it's too expensive. Giving you food and water is, apparently, too expensive.
There is no hyperbole involved when I say that reading that report made me feel physically sick.
What has happened to our civilisation?