Patient makes High Court bid for ‘euthanasia’

A 30-year-old terminally ill woman has begun a landmark legal action against several doctors, including her GP practice, for ‘medical assistance to relieve her suffering’. Kelly Taylor, who suffers from Eisenmenger’s syndrome, affecting her heart and lungs, has been given less than a year to live and wants doctors to increase her medication to induce a coma-like state.

She has also made a living will asking doctors not to provide artificial food or hydration once she is unconscious.

GPs from her Bristol practice, alongside doctors working for the United Bristol Healthcare NHS Trust and a local hospice,  have refused her request, arguing that to provide deep sedation would amount to euthanasia.

Ms Taylor’s solicitor, Richard Stein of London-based Leigh Day & Co Solicitors, said: ‘Our client is entitled to seek this treatment and it is unlawful for doctors to deny it to her unless they take steps to find a doctor willing to provide it.’

Mr Stein will argue that providing Mrs Taylor with pain-relieving treatment is not unlawful since it is ‘justified under the principle of double effect’.

The ‘double effect’ is where doctors may prescribe morphine or other medication to relieve pain or distress, which may have the effect of shortening life.

The GP practice was unavailable for comment, but a BMA spokeswoman said although it had sympathy with Ms Taylor, it did not support her request.

‘This would involve the doctors in assisting her suicide, which is unlawful and unethical. Doctors may give morphine or other medication with the aim of relieving pain and which may have the effect of shortening life,’ she said.

‘This is lawful and part of good-quality care, but is different to action taken with the intention of ending the patient’s life.’

A hearing will take place in March at the High Court.

In a debate at last year’s annual representatives meeting, the BMA’s neutral stance on legalising physician-assisted suicide and voluntary or involuntary euthanasia was turned into opposition by a comfortable majority (GP, 7 July 2006).  

Landmark case

  • Ms Taylor argues that a doctor can both sedate a patient and then withhold food and water as requested in a living will.
  • Doctors argue that although the two individual actions are permissible, to do this knowingly is effectively euthanasia.

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