An “Alternative” to Euthanasia?

patient euthanasiaMany pro-euthanasia advocates in the UK are frustrated at the slow progress of campaigns for legalisation. In a recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the editor, Oxford bioethicist Julian Savulescu has proposed a way for them to circumvent the law – “voluntary palliated starvation”.

This is the term Savulescu has coined for the starvation of consenting patients whilst under heavy sedation. Patients willingly reject food and doctors drug them into unconsciousness until they die. Such a decision could be made through an advance directive.

Patients are already able to starve themselves, Savulescu observes, and there is no reason why they should not be given relief when doing so. The provision of medical care for patients who are inflicting pain on themselves is something we already do, and we should make no exception when patients chose to refuse food. Savulescu sees an analogy in treatment for alcoholics and smokers.

Savulescu refers extensively to Tony Nicklinson, a British stroke victim who, after losing a court battle to receive medical assistance in his suicide, began to refuse all food. He died just a week later. Nicklinson did not receive extraordinary palliative sedation in his final week.


This article first appeared at BioEdge

Xavier Symons


Xavier Symons is a Masters student in philosophy at Sydney University and has a keen interest in bioethics. Aside from his studies he enjoys playing guitar and reading American literature. He has contributed to a number of online publications, in addition to his work with BioEdge.

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  • JMC

    If a patient subjects himself to starvation, then he is probably in the early stages of the death process. I’ve seen it many times, and hospice specialists confirmed my observation: As the body begins to shut down, it no longer demands food or drink; in fact, providing nutrition and/or hydration via IV actually causes problems of its own, even in an unconscious or comatose patient.
    This is not to say I support hastening death. Like abortion, the euthanasia movement is rooted in selfishness: People do not want to be bothered caring for their elderly or ill relatives; they want them to die and get it over with. Yes, in the case of a prolonged illness, that’s a normal response; I experienced it myself when my father had terminal lung cancer, and I’m still occasionally dealing with the guilt, thirty years later. But the duty of a Christian is to resist that impulse, to continue to provide loving care in spite of that feeling, and above all, never let the patient know about it. But today’s hedonistic society is all about giving in to one’s own emotional needs, and to you-know-where with everyone else. My best friend in high school, back in 1970, summed it up with a statement I have since seen echoed in Catholic writings analyzing atheism: I don’t want God telling me what I can and can’t do.
    Modern society is possessed; there is no longer any doubt of that in my mind. Sadly, “blanket” exorcisms are impossible; but there is a Minor Exorcism that every one of us can perform every day, as many times as we see evil. It’s the prayer to St. Michael, the one that begins, “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle…”

  • lee

    Jesus’ life on earth was His personal journey from His birth through His death. His plan would be for us to be allowed to live our personal journeys, and we (society) not able to deal with it is very sad for those who are willing to do God’s Will. Our death is the part of our journey that gives us the time to reflect and repent; and the time for others to love. Aren’t we a selfish sort when we try to do God’s work?

  • Tom McBride

    Why not dummy? It is because an official policy of cooperating in suicide is tacit agreement with committing suicide. Your the philosophy major tell us why that would not lead us further down the slippery slope.

  • Richard III

    This sounds like a disturbing revival of the disturbing Catharist Heresy from the 12th century. The Cathari believed marriage, eating meat, and all physical and material things to be evil, therefore, not only was sexual perversion of all sorts preferable to marriage, but death in any form was preferable to life. Assisted suicide, in which a sick person died as either a “martyr” smothered with a pillow or as a “confessor” by voluntary starvation.