British Hospital Apologizes for Allowing Disabled Patient to Die, No Accountability

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 13, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Hospital Apologizes for Allowing Disabled Patient to Die, No Accountability

by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 13
, 2009

London, England ( — A British hospital that allowed a Down syndrome patient to starve to death over a 26 day period has apologized but will not be held accountable. That’s upsetting to one bioethicist who says he can’t believe the hospital hasn’t made any progress in investigating the case in four years.

As reported, Martin Ryan died in a hospital in Kingston-upon-Thames and the medical center conducted an internal investigation following his death.

Ryan, who could not swallow after a stroke, was allowed to lie in a bed and starve to death without receiving any medical care.

Now, Kingston hospital has apologized and issued a statement telling Martin’s parents that officials are very sorry he died.

Chief executive Kate Grimes told the London Daily Mail that the medical center had apologized personally to Mr Ryan’s parents, and that the staff involved "very much regret" his death.

She said the communications breakdown that led to his death was "inexcusable and our staff have learned very serious lessons."

"Personally, I would also like to say we feel for Mr Ryan’s parents over the loss of their much-loved son. We know we cannot make things better for them but we have made major changes to ensure another similar tragedy does not occur," Grimes told the newspaper.

An internal query found that doctors thought staff nurses were feeding him with a feeding tube in his nose, but by the time anyone realized that had not happened for weeks, Ryan was took weak for a surgery to insert a gastronomy tube in his stomach.

That’s not good enough for Wesley J. Smith, an American bioethicist who noted that publicity over Ryan’s death only occurred now — four years after it happened — because of an investigation into errors in the NHS governmental health system.

"I have no doubt the apology is sincere. But it is inadequate to the profound wrong that occurred in this case," Smith says.

"Where is the accountability? Where are the resignations? Why haven’t–apparently–any of the derelict caregivers been fired or disciplined by the hospital and their professional organizations?" Smith asked. "Indeed, why nearly four years after Martin’s death is the matter still at the inquiry stage?"

Smith thinks that more progress was not made in holding the hospital and its staff accountable because Martin was disabled.

"I have no doubt that if Martin did not have Down syndrome, heads would have figuratively rolled," he says. "Indeed, it isn’t vindictiveness but simple justice that demands that this case not be allowed to rest with a simple apology, no matter how sincere or abject."

Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, is expected to issue a report soon on similar abuses and members of the British parliament may act on it to prevent further ones.

Anthony Ozimic, the political secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, a British pro-life group, also told the British government must be held accountable for what is becoming routine discrimination against the mentally disabled.

"Mencap has identified institutional discrimination within Britain’s healthcare services against people with learning disabilities," he said. "Yet lethal institutional discrimination against the disabled and vulnerable is enshrined in law and policy, particularly in the pro-euthanasia Mental Capacity Act which Mencap supported."

"Disabled adults will continue to die because of discriminatory attitudes whilst the Mental Capacity Act and the killing of disabled unborn children, which manifest those attitudes, remain law," Ozimic added.

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