January 2, 2013
British right to life case
Just a brief note about a British right to life case. David James, a patient in a Liverpool hospital at the center of a right to life controversy, died this week. James had entered the hospital last spring for what newspapers describe as "suspected constipation"; he had a history of bowel cancer and was scheduled for scans. While waiting, he contracted hospital-acquired pneumonia and septicemia. The hospital sought to place him on what is called the Liverpool Care Pathway -- an end of life care protocol that is described by its supporters as an extension of the benefits of hospice to hospitalized patients and by its detractors as euthanasia for the elderly. His family challenged the decision in court, but lost the case a little over a week before James's death. Newspaper reports indicate that although the family wanted CPR and dialysis for James, neither were administered, following medical judgments that they would be futile. Reports also indicate that the family plan to challenge both the earlier care that James received and the decisions about care management at the end of his life.
Britain has had several recent "right to die" cases, in which patients such as Tony Nicklinson with "locked in" syndrome were refused aid-in-dying. These cases were presented very sympathetically in the press, and the James case appears likely to present advocates of life-preservation with a sympathetic story on the other side.