February 29, 2024

“Unlawful” for doctors to save depressed woman from suicide

The tragic case of Kerrie Wooltorton

Kerrie WooltortonDoctors were right to allow a 26-year-old woman to die after swallowing antifreeze because she had made a living will, a British coroner has found.

Before her death in September 2007 Kerrie Wooltorton had swallowed antifreeze nine times. Each time, however, she had accepted dialysis treatment to flush the poison from her system. Finally she wrote a living will which instructed doctors to give her nothing except comfort care. Three days later she swallowed more antifreeze and when she arrived at hospital, she handed the letter to the doctors. It said that she was "100 per cent aware" of the consequences and did not want to be treated. She had only called an ambulance because she did not want to die alone and in pain and not because she wanted to be treated.

Doctors felt anguished, but believed that they were legally obliged to follow Ms Wooltorton’s wishes under the 2005 Mental Capacity Act. The coroner backed their decision: "A deliberate decision to die may appear repugnant, but any treatment to have saved Kerrie’s life in the absence of her consent would have been unlawful."

Professor Sheila McLean* commented in the BMJ that the living will is a distraction from the real issue of the case, which is the right of a competent patient to refuse treatment. Under British law, even the mentally ill may be deemed to be mentally competent.

The General Medical Council has also indicated that failure to comply would lead to deregistration.

Opponents of euthanasia were outraged. "What this miserable story also tells us is just how far the medical profession and the emergency services have been pushed into a culture where it’s now okay to let people commit suicide if they apparently want to," snarled George Pitcher, a columnist with the London Telegraph.

Was Ms Wooltorton capable of informed consent? She was clearly a very troubled young woman with a severe personality disorder. She lived alone and had been estranged from her parents for years. She was deeply depressed over rare gynaecological condition which made it impossible for her to have children. ~ London Telegraph, Sept 30;

*  corrected

Michael Cook

2 thoughts on ““Unlawful” for doctors to save depressed woman from suicide

  1. When I heard this story on the radio, I did not know what to think of what the doctors should have done.

    It was not until I read the story on this website that I learned she had swallowed antifreeze nine times earlier. And each of those times, she had her life saved. If this had been the first time, then I believe the doctors should have saved her life. However, given the first nine times and her request to allow suicide the tenth time, then maybe the doctors did the correct thing (allowing suicide).

    It is unfortunate that not every woman who wants to help replenish the earth by having children is able to do this. Did Kerrie try to become married? Did she consider adopting? Did men reject her for her condition?

    I know that if the “Alice” who I married had simply told me before the wedding that she had Turner’s Syndrome (no ovaries at birth) and talked about adopting children, my
    life would have been much different. (“Alice” stopped corresponding with me by mail and asked a lawyer to stop the legal annulment that I requested and received.)

    Young and unmarried ladies, please, if you are one of the women (about 1 in every 2500) who are not having normal menstrual periods, please tell a man before you marry him. Please, do not believe that every man will “get over it” or believes “it does not matter”.

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