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Hazardous Pathway
The road to euthanasia.


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Wesley J. Smith

On September 8, the Daily Telegraph carried a story in which one Rosemary Munkenbeck charged that after her father was hospitalized with a stroke, he was quickly deprived of fluids and medications. She further claimed that doctors wanted to sedate him with morphine until he died, under the Pathway protocols, but the family refused. Munkenbeck’s father went five days until sustenance was restored, but the family isn’t hopeful. “We believe that he has been forced down this route,” she told the Telegraph. “By withdrawing fluids he is now very weak and there’s no going back from it.”

Soon, the Times of London reported another case:

An 80-year-old grandmother who doctors identified as terminally ill and left to starve to death has recovered after her outraged daughter intervened. Hazel Fenton, from East Sussex, is alive nine months after medics ruled she had only days to live, withdrew her antibiotics and denied her artificial feeding. The former school matron had been placed on a controversial care plan intended to ease the last days of dying patients. Doctors say Fenton is an example of patients who have been condemned to death on the Liverpool care pathway plan. They argue that while it is suitable for patients who do have only days to live, it is being used more widely in the NHS, denying treatment to elderly patients who are not dying.

Fenton lived to tell the tale. Not so 76-year-old Jack Jones. Jones was hospitalized in the belief that his previous cancer had recurred and was now terminal. The family claimed he was soon denied food and water and put into deep sedation. But his autopsy showed that he did not have cancer at all, but actually had a treatable infection. The hospice denied wrongdoing but paid £18,000 to Jones’s widow.

This is precisely the paint-by-the-numbers medical approach that Obamacare threatens to bring across the pond to our shores. Indeed, former senator Tom Daschle — whom the New York Times called the most influential adviser to the president in the health-care debate — has long urged that America adopt NICE-style centralized medical planning. Indeed, according to Scott Gottlieb, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Daschle “argues that the only way to reduce spending is by allocating medical products based on ‘cost effectiveness.’ He’s also called for a ‘federal health board’ modeled on the Federal Reserve to rate medical products and create central controls on access.”

Chillingly, current Obamacare plans call for the creation of many cost/benefit/best-practices boards, the full power of which won’t be fully known until the bureaucrats promulgate tens of thousands of pages of regulations between now and 2013, when the law would go into effect. Making matters more alarming, these boards would not only govern treatment provided in any public-option health plan, but would also be empowered to set the standards of care paid for by private insurance. Unless the final version of Obamacare is amended explicitly to prohibit such centralized health planning, don’t be surprised if an American version of the Liverpool Care Pathway comes soon to a hospital or nursing home near you.

– Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow in human rights and bioethics at the Discovery Institute. He also consults for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide and the Center for Bioethics and Culture.



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