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British Medical Group Challenges Burke "Right To Live" Ruling
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
October 11, 2004

LONDON, ENGLAND--The General Medical Council last week appealed a ruling by Britain's High Court that directed doctors to seek court permission before disconnecting feeding tubes from patients with certain medical conditions.

The ruling in June was considered a victory for Leslie Burke and others with terminal illnesses and severe disabilities who may not be able to express their wishes regarding their treatment.

Burke, 44, has cerebellar ataxia, a brain condition that is expected to get worse over time. Burke wanted the GMC to make changes to their policies before he is no longer able to speak for himself. He said he was afraid that doctors could decide his "quality of life" was so poor it would not be worth keeping him alive.

Under GMC guidelines published last year, doctors need to seek court permission before disconnecting feeding tubes from patients considered to be in a "permanent vegetative state". The rules, however, allow doctors to end such feeding without court approval for patients with other medical conditions.

Burke argued that the guidelines violate both British and European human rights law because they give doctors the power to withdraw needed medical treatment without the patients' input and without court oversight.

The High Court sided with Burke, and told the GMC it needed to rewrite the guidelines to reflect the desires of patients and their families. The ruling has been seen by the medical profession as a major -- and potentially expensive -- change in how such people are treated.

According to the Morecambre Today, Ruth Evans, chair of the GMC's standards and ethics committee, said that the Council is challenging the ruling in order to have some 'key issues' clarified.

"Some patients will want everything possible to be done, while others will want to avoid too much medical intervention, when they are nearing the end of life," she explained. "Doctors want clear guidance to help ensure individual patients receive the care that's right for them."

Burke's lawyer, Paul Conrathe, told The Independent, "My client wants to be the person who determines the manner of his parting. He wants artificial nutrition and hydration until he naturally passes away."

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