Azara Blog: Doctors let woman die who wanted to die

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Date published: 2009/10/01

The BBC says:

Doctors were forced to allow a suicidal woman who had swallowed anti-freeze to die, because she refused medical help.

Kerrie Wooltorton, 26, of Norwich, had also made a "living will" requesting no intervention if she tried to take her own life, a Norwich inquest heard.

Doctors would have risked breaking the law by treating her, the coroner said.

The Norwich and Norwich University Hospital said Miss Wooltorton was conscious and doctors were convinced of her mental competence.

She died four days after being admitted to the hospital.

The hospital said the living will did not play a part in the decision.

Miss Wooltorton had accepted lifesaving dialysis at the hospital after drinking anti-freeze several times in the year before her death, an earlier hearing was told.

"Any treatment... in the absence of her consent would have been unlawful," said coroner William Armstrong.

The inquest was told Miss Wooltorton had mental capacity and had the right to refuse medical intervention.

"Even when she was losing consciousness she was absolutely clear in refusing treatment," said Mr Armstrong.
...
Local MP and Lib Dem spokesman on health Norman Lamb said: "Doctors need to be given clear guidance on whether they are right to respect the wishes of the individual."

The British Medical Association's head of ethics and science, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said: "It is always very tragic if an individual, like Kerrie Wooltorton, decides they do not want to live any longer.

"However, patients who are mentally competent must retain the legal right to refuse medical intervention."

Shock, horror, for once the BMA (or at least one person in the BMA) has it right. And Norman Lamb should just out and out state that doctors should "respect the wishes of the individual". (It's hard to tell from the quote whether he thinks doctors should intervene or whether he just wants to make sure doctors are not held liable if they do not intervene, and the Lib Dems are so illiberal these days there's no point assuming that the second interpretation must be the correct one.)

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