Thursday, August 13, 2009

An interesting legal dilemma

There is a case going before the courts today regarding the 'right to die' issue.

A forty-nine year old man was knocked off his bicycle a couple of years ago and became a quadriplegic. He is now in a nursing home with a tracheostomy and a tube directly in his stomach for feeding. He is totally helpless and in great pain. He wants to be allowed to die.

Here is the crunchy bit. The nursing home wants clarification before they stop feeding him which is the only way he is likely to die in the near future. He wants them to stop feeding him so that he can starve to death. If the nursing home stops feeding him would the law consider that to be 'assisted suicide'? If the nursing home continues to feed him are they guilty of assault and battery? What is their duty of care in this situation? Do they force him to live out the rest of his natural life against his will or do they accede to his request to be allowed to die, and stop what is, in effect, force feeding?

Just to muddy the waters still further it has been revealed that he once attempted suicide before he became a quadriplegic.

I suspect and hope that he will be allowed to end his life but it is a legal minefield. Without artificial aids he would have died at the time of the accident so no-one can say that it is God's will that he should be forced to live, as God obviously did her damnedest [gmail's spelling] to gather him in when he was knocked off his bike.

And that leads to another dilemma. If he dies now, will the person who was driving the car be liable to a charge of manslaughter? That person has a big stake in having him kept alive.

Whatever the outcome, the judgement is going to set a precedent and I am glad that I don't have to make a decision on this case.

I will post the judgement when it becomes available ...

Edited to post the judgement of the court:

The court has ruled that the patient has the right to accept or refuse food; that feeding through a gastric tube constitutes a medical treatment and in Australia people have the right to refuse medical treatment. He now has that option but is following up the possibility of going to Switzerland where voluntary euthanasia is legal.

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