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Down on Life at the National Health Service


There’s an alarming testimony in the Guardian today about life under the National Health Service in Britain:

all too many people with disabilities end up being killed by the health service – the very institution supposedly dedicated to saving their lives.

The latest case is distressing and disturbing: Tina Papalabropoulos, a young woman scarcely older than my own child dying after a series of blunders by two NHS organisations – a hospital and out-of-hours GP service – in Essex. Quite rightly, her mother, Christine, is angry. “When your child becomes ill and you need professional help from doctors, you and your child are looked at and you can see their mind working, ‘Is there any point in trying to save this child’s life?’ You can see that they think, ‘This child has an existence and not a life’,” she said.

The loss of this young life was a needless tragedy. But it is far from an isolated one. Each week 24 disabled people are killed by such prejudiced presumptions; indeed, there was a case at my local hospital recently. These shocking figures are based on a government-commissioned inquiryinto one region of the country, which found people with disabilities 37% more likely to be killed by incompetence or inadequate care – and their lives end on average 16 years earlier than they should. The more serious the disabilities, the higher the risk.

This is the same health service celebrated during the most recent Olympics’ opening ceremony? Let celebration stop and a recommitment to celebrating and protecting life begin. When doctors don’t see human life as human life, with a dignity they have a duty to protect, we’re in trouble. Especially as we seem not to notice or care all that much. This is a culture moving beyond “death panels,” to a conventional medical wisdom that does not see all people as having an inherent dignity. 


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