February 27, 2024

Pull plug on “unresponsive” patients, says Australian committee

Leaked report makes radical suggestion

Australian government ethics committee will recommend that people let their
“unresponsive” loved ones die if medical treatment is costly and futile, according
to a Queensland newspaper which has sighted a leaked draft of the report. The
proposed guidelines from the Australian Health Ethics Committee are intended to
educate the community about how long to persevere with “burdensome” treatment.
It will advise relatives and doctors to withdraw treatment such as tube-feeding
from comatose or brain-dead patients if the procedures are “risky, intrusive,
destructive, exhausting, painful or repugnant” and if the cost outweighs the
benefit or success.

Since this
is only a straw in the wind, it is hard to know what to make of this policy.
However, the leak seems to indicate that the guidelines would have allowed the
feeding tubes of Terri Schiavo, the best known “unresponsive” patient of recent
times, to be removed. This approach to a minimally conscious patient was
enormously controversial in the US and could cause an uproar
in Australia, too. From what sketchy information has emerged, it seems that the
guidelines fail to distinguish adequately between the futility of a patient’s
treatment and the futility of their life. ~ Courier-Mail, May 26