May 24, 2024

… but who decides what is terminal?

Dramatic case in UK

Christine Ball and her mother, Hazel FentonBut what can happen when dementia is treated as a terminal illness may not always please close family members, an article in the London Sunday Times suggests. The case of 80-year-old Hazel Fenton became a minor healthcare scandal in Britain this week. After hospital doctors decided in January that she would only live for a few more days, they withdrew her antibiotics and denied her artificial feeding. They were following the controversial "Liverpool care pathway plan". This, its critics allege, mandates withdrawal of treatment not only from dying patients, but also from elderly patients who are not dying.

In Mrs Fenton’s case, her daughter Christine Ball fought to have her care restored. She survived and is now living in a nursing home. Ms Ball says: "My mother was going to be left to starve and dehydrate to death. It really is a subterfuge for legalised euthanasia of the elderly on the [National Health Service]." She claims that her objections were ignored. A nurse even asked her: "What do you want done with your mother’s body?"

Although newspaper accounts do not suggest that Mrs Fenton was suffering from dementia, she was elderly, ill, disabled and unable to defend her own interests – which is the case with all demented patients. With a dramatic rise in dementia on the horizon, it is obvious that another bitter bioethical dispute is on the horizon. ~ London Sunday Times, Oct 11

Michael Cook