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May 17, 2005

Leslie Burke's Story

Topics: News

Leslie Burke was born in Lancaster, the oldest in a family of five. He was pretty normal when he was growing up--but had the hardest time balancing. This was the only indication that things were not quite right.

In 1983 he was working as a postman when his employer asked him to get a physical. He was diagnosed with Cerebellar Ataxia. Their is nothing that you can do about this disease, and he was told that he would not see his 40'th birthday--he did, four years ago. The only thing that you can do is to just get on with life.

He did this, and has got a lot done since the doctor's diagnosis 18 years ago. This condition gets worse and worse, and he is now in a wheelchair all the time. He was worried that when his condition has progressed,and he can no longer speak or eat by himself, the hospital would decide to remove his feeding tube, like they did with Tony Bland.

Last year, on July 30 2004 he won the court battle that said he must be given food since he wanted it to be continued. The hospital filed an appeal last September and the appeals court will hear them this coming Thursday (May 19) and come to a decision.

Cerebellar Ataxia does not affect one's mental ability--and he will mentally be completely there, it will only affect his physical abilities. He does not look forward at all to the prospect of slowly dying off because of starvation--even though the doctor's think it dignified.

Click here to go to his website, which has lots of more info on the case.

Source is: SaveCharlotte.com | Crossposted at Sounding the Trumpet

Posted by joshua at May 17, 2005 4:42 PM


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This is a very important issue; it is entirely chilling that the doctors in England are blatantly demanding the "professional" right to dehydrate people to death at their own discretion. That is what it comes to. That they have the gall to appeal this sensible ruling (that Leslie can indicate ahead of time that he wants nutrition and hydration and have his wish honored) is frightening. In my opinion, the doctors in Britain are getting arrogant beyond belief. I have read quotations from the lawyer arguing the Medical Association's case. They are really unnerving. Basically, they are saying that it must be their decision, that they must be allowed to deny anything, even food and water, based on their own idea of what is in the person's "best interests," even against his own wishes. They invoke professional conscience, but this is bogus. The notion of a doctor violating his conscience by _not_ withdrawing hydration is bizarre. Frankly, I think we should tell them that if they feel that way they should be ready to follow their twisted "conscience" and go to jail if they are caught having dehydrated someone to death (esp. against his wishes) in the name of their "doctor's conscience." Consider, too, that relatives can take care of a feeding tube at home, so a prior request for nutrition and hydration need not require doctors to do anything. This raises the terrifying specter (not discussed) of UK medical personnel insisting that someone must stay in the hospital and die rather than go home with someone who would administer food and water, because they have decided it is in his "best interests" and is required by _their_ "professional conscience." Nor is this totally implausible, given that the UK did something much like this in the case of Siamese twins that they insisted on separating a few years ago. It seems the parents were not able just to take them away.

Yet we got into this from talk about autonomy and a person's right to choose. Of course, many of us have suspected that this was all a lie, that the only thing these sorts of people wanted to let you "choose" was death, not life. But I am surprised by the speed with which the doctors in the UK are willing to admit this nearly openly. They are asking for carte blanche to kill people by dehydration. My skin crawled when I read the lawyer saying that this wasn't about Leslie's right to receive food and water, because maybe he _would_ receive it. Basically, they just want to have total power to decide. And that's supposed to be comforting? Of _course_ it's about Leslie's right. I think he should start looking into leaving England!

Posted by: Lydia at May 18, 2005 11:57 AM

From the London Times Online

"The Government today intervened directly in a right-to-life case being heard at the Court of Appeal with a message to judges that giving patients the right to demand lfe-prolonging treatment would have 'very serious implications' for the National Health Service.

The General Medical Council is trying to overturn a ruling in favour of Leslie Burke, a 45-year-old former postman with a degenerative brain condition, who last year won the right to stop doctors withdrawing artificial nutrition or hydration (ANH) treatment until he dies naturally. ..."

The British government puts its foot down on the side of the almighty Pound Sterling.

The entire article is at:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0%2C%2C2-1617729%2C00.html

Posted by: Tom Spence at May 22, 2005 1:44 PM

In this article, the lawyer for the Secretary of Health repeatedly switches back and forth (sometimes within the same sentence) between the "danger" that patients will ask for something that would not be "in their best interests" and something _quite_ different, the problems such a patient right as Leslie asks for would create for "allocation of resources." Sometimes he says that the nutrition and hydration demanded might be "inappropriate" for the patient himself; other times he says that it might be "detrimental to other patients" to give life-sustaining measures to people like Leslie. The first argument--"best interests of the patient"--maintains the fiction, at least, that it is the welfare of the individual that is in question. The latter more or less admits that some people have a duty to die to leave more money for the rest.

That otherwise intelligent people cannot keep these two issues distinct is a big part of the problem.

Posted by: Lydia at May 22, 2005 2:52 PM

On the Charlotte Wyatt web site they report that the judicial decision will be made in 6 weeks.

Posted by: Lydia at May 23, 2005 10:15 AM