Euthanasia, Ethics, and Public Policy: An Argument against Legalisation

By John Keown | Go to book overview
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19
The Tony Bland case

We mentioned this case in chapter 1 to illustrate the second definition of 'euthanasia' as including intentional termination of life by omission. We revisit it now to focus on its legal and ethical significance as a landmark decision condoning PE. It merits repetition that PE means (at any rate as used in this book) the withholding/withdrawal of medical treatment (or tube-feeding)with the intention (aim) of hastening death. Itdoes not mean withholding/withdrawing treatment because the treatment is either futile or too burdensome, or in order to respect the patient's refusal of treatment, which everyone (except a vitalist) agrees is perfectly proper both ethically and legally.


The facts

Before his death on 3 March 1993, Tony Bland had lain in Airedale Hospital for over three years in a 'persistent vegetative state' (pvs), a state in which, it was believed, he could neither see, hear nor feel. The medical consensus was that he would never regain consciousness. Neither dead nor dying, his brain stem still functioned and he breathed and digested naturally. He was fed by nasogastric tube, his excretory functions regulated by catheter and enemas. Infections were treated with antibiotics. His doctor and parents wanted to stop the feeding and antibiotics and the Hospital Trust applied for a declaration that it would be lawful to do so. The application, supported by an amicus curiae (a 'friend of the court') instructed by the Attorney-General, was opposed by the Official Solicitor, who represented Tony. The declaration was granted by Sir Stephen Brown, whose decision was unanimously affirmed by the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords.

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