The family of an 81-year-old woman has received an out-of-court settlement payment and an apology from George Eliot hospital, in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, after they misplaced her Advance Directive to be denied treatment under certain previously defined conditions, reports the BBC.
Elderly support charity, Age UK, offer an explanation of the Advance Directive, or “living will”, on their factsheet Advance decisions, advance statements and living wills: “The Mental Capacity Act 2005 (‘the Act’) provides a legal framework to empower and protect people who cannot make specific decisions for themselves.”
“There may be a time… when you are unable to make a treatment decision and/or express your wishes. You can make plans in advance for such eventualities by making an advance decision to refuse treatment [aka. an Advance Directive, or living will] and/or making and registering a Lasting Power of Attorney for health and care decisions.”
A “fear of being kept alive”
Brenda Grant made a living will stating she feared degradation and indignity more than death, reports the BBC. She did not tell her children about the living will.
The hospital misplaced the document, and fitted Mrs Grant with a stomach peg so that she could be fed directly, before discharging her into a nursing home. Once there, Mrs Grant became agitated and tried to pull out the tubes in her arm, prompting staff to put mittens on her hands.
The family were alerted to the existence of Mrs Grant’s directive by her GP shortly before she was re-admitted to hospital, which sparked a confrontation with the hospital over the respect of her living will.
Mrs Grant’s daughter, Tracy Barker, said of her mother: “She had a fear of being kept alive because she had a fear of going into a nursing home. She never wanted to be a burden to anybody, so she wouldn’t have wanted any of us to look after her.”
Brenda Grant was artificially fed for a total of 22 months before her tubes were withdrawn. She died a few days later, on the 4th of August 2014.
Dr Anthony McCarthy of SPUC commented: It is frightening that someone is legally able to refuse in advance something as basic as food and fluids, even with a suicidal further intention, and that this decision can be taken as binding even at a time when the person is not able to reverse it.
No-one wants people to be overtreated at the end of their lives, and patient comfort should be taken very seriously, but those who are no longer able to communicate should receive basic care from which they are still able to benefit. This is important not least because thirst, for example, can cause suffering, which is exactly what the person wanted to avoid.
For those wanting to express preferences on end of life care, a safer way to do this is by making an ‘advance statement’ rather than an ‘advance directive’, leaving the necessary leeway to the hospital to care for one in one’s genuine best interests (please see our Statement of Medical Care Principles for guidance on advance statements: https://www.spuc.org.uk/our-work/help-in-a-crisis/patients-first-network/principles )
LifeNews Note: Courtesy of SPUC. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children is a leading pro-life organization in the United Kingdom.