Human Exceptionalism

The Dutch Would Have Dehydrated Terri Even If Michael Had Wanted Her to Live

Ah, the Dutch. In their cold and sterile hands, there never would have been a public fight over Terri’s life. The decision to stop the feeding tube wouldn’t have been based on Terri’s past-stated desires. It wouldn’t have been based on what Michael Schiavo wanted. Nor, would Terri’s folks have had a say. Instead, it would all have been up to the doctors.

The UK has a similar system in place as part of its system of socialized medicine. Indeed, a man with a Lou Gehrig’s disease type condition was so terrified that he would be denied a feeding tube when he could no longer swallow, he sued for the right to receive food and water. He won in the trial court, but astoundingly, the government is appealing on the basis that with health care budgets so tight, the doctors should be the ones to make the call.

Now, lest we feel superior here in “choice central,” that kind of pogrom, er, I mean program, is being prepared for us right here in the good ol’ USA by the bioethics movement. It is called futile care theory, under which doctors (and health insurance executives?) are being empowered by hospital protocols to refuse WANTED life sustaining treatment if the patient’s quality of life is seen as insufficient to warrant further care (other than palliation). In the event the family objects, an ethics committee decides. The way these protocols generally read, once the committee rules thumbs down on the treatment, the care can no longer be provided in the hospital, even if another doctor steps forward to provide it.

Futile care theory is just now beginning to be applied against actual patients. Time will tell whether the American people will accept this new game of “Doctor knows best.”

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