“How aggressive do you want us to be in treating Tom?” the doctor asked.
He was referring to our baby who had a degenerative brains disorder, had stopped breathing, been revived and taken to hospital.
We said that if he was fighting for himself he should be helped but if it came down to using technology to prolong the inevitable he should be left alone.
A few hours later another doctor asked the same question and I gave the same answer. Tom died a few minutes later, in my arms.
Nearly seven years later Tom’s brother Dan stopped breathing. The registrar treating him asked the nurse to get the crash team but I said “no”.
The paediatrician in charge of Dan’s care had discussed this situation with us when he was only a few weeks old and it was obvious he had the same condition which had killed Tom. The consultant’s advice was that if something life threatening happened, Dan shouldn’t be treated.
I explained this to the registrar who asked me if I was sure. I said “yes,” and he said, “I think that’s the right decision.”
That was 17 years ago tomorrow and I thought that this sort of situatio, while not common-place, wouldn’t be unusual. Life is fatal and not treating someone who is terminally ill can sometimes be the best way of doing no harm.
I thought that was accepted practice. But just a couple of weeks ago a special court was convened at night to determine whether a health board’s decision not to do surgery on a terminally ill boy would amount to homicide.
A judge ruled it did not, finding it was in accordance with “good medical practice” not to do the life-prolonging operation. The seven-year-old boy died the next day.
This sort of decision shouldn’t be taken lightly but I don’t understand why there was a need to take it to court. As Dr Richard McGrarth says at Not PC:
I find it disturbing that a court should even be considering whether they can force a surgeon to operate on anyone, or charge him with homicide if he declines to operate and the patient then dies of natural causes.
I have no doubts that not treating my sons was the right thing to do.
If I was in a similar position with a similar prognosis I’d make the same decision again and I’d be very upset if I had to go to court to protect the doctors I was asking to withhold treatment.
Doctors shouldn’t need a judge’s approval to do nothing when that is the best way to do no harm.