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

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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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