Human Exceptionalism

Are Dependent Elderly Persona non Grata in the UK?

Stories like this continue to mount in the UK, and are a warning to us of the growing utilitarian, quality of life/cost-benefit bent in health care.  A stroke patient, it is charged, was almost neglected to death–if not worse–at a UK hospital.  From the story:

John MacGillivray, 78, from Auchterarder, was admitted to Perth Royal Infirmary having suffered a stroke on May 22. Two days later, his family were told by hospital doctors he would die within hours. His daughter Patricia MacGillivray told Sky News:…”There were several issues we already had with the level of care he had received in the short while he had been in the hospital, so we started to become suspicious. That’s when we started asking about his medication. It was then we learned that the medication we had been told he was going to receive when he was first admitted, which was specifically for stroke, had been changed to medication for treating seizures which we’d never seen him have.

The MacGillivray family instructed doctors to immediately withdraw all medication and launched a round-the-clock bedside watch.Within two days, Ms MacGillivray says her father had made such a good recovery he was being recommended for stroke rehabilitation treatment and four weeks later he was back home walking around his garden in Auchterarder. Ms MacGillivray feels if her family had not intervened in the treatment her father was receiving at Perth Royal Infirmary then her father would not be alive today. “The effect of that medication was to sedate him.”

Not to prejudge the matter, but I think that is a pretty good bet.  Indeed, if my private e-mail is any judge, the disdain for the moral worth within the health care community for elderly people with serious brain injuries or illnesses is growing here too.  (That being said, I believe American health care remains fundamentally moral precisely because of the people working in the trenches at hospitals and in nursing homes.)

Stories such as these are all very depressing and bring to mind the prescient warning by Dr. Leo Alexander printed in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1949 in the wake of the Nuremberg Medical Trials, for which he was chief investigator:

In an increasingly utilitarian society these patients [with chronic diseases] are being looked down upon with increasing definiteness as unwanted ballast. A certain amount of rather open contempt for the people who cannot be rehabilitated with present knowledge has developed. This is probably due to a good deal of unconscious hostility, because these people for whom there seem to be no effective remedies, have become a threat to newly acquired delusions of omnipotence… At this point, Americans should remember that the enormity of the euthanasia movement is present in their own midst.”

Question: Given the changes in ethics at the NEJM, given its editors pushing assisted suicide–even, in a bitter irony, respectfully publishing the Groningen Protocol bureucratic check list as to which babies are to be murdered by doctors based on quality of life judgments–would it even publish Alexander’s article today?

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