Straight Up with Sherri

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Elderly are helped to die to clear beds, claims doctor

Hat tip: Ron Panzer, President/Founder of Hospice Patience Alliance

Elderly are helped to die to clear beds, claims doctor

The callous treatment of the elderly in NHS hospitals has been exposed by a doctor who claims patients are denied life-saving treatment, are grossly neglected and are given drugs which hasten death.

Rita Pal, 28, a junior doctor, was so disturbed by her experiences that she is leaving the profession. This week she will submit a dossier to the General Medical Council (GMC) detailing the cases of abuse that she saw.

"I have witnessed doctors who want to keep beds clear by withdrawing treatment or actively assisting in death to the point where it becomes involuntary euthanasia," she said. She wants the government to set up an independent inquiry. Among the cases which Pal witnessed were:

# A doctor who ordered the withdrawal of life-saving medication of a dying patient after stating that the hospital needed beds.

# A diabetic patient in her nineties who was deprived of basic medical attention after a nurse commented, "She will die anyway."

# Critically ill patients whose lives were cut short after being given "unnecessary" doses of diamorphine, which is commonly known as heroin.

# A doctor who, when told about a patient dying from a liver complaint, said, "Well, he is over 60", and made no effort to administer medical attention.

Pal, from Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, trained at University College London. She joined North Staffordshire hospital in 1998 and worked on two general medical wards - each with about 40 patients. In her first month, a senior doctor ordered the medication to be withdrawn from an 89-year-old stroke victim who was critically ill and could not speak because he had a plastic tube down his throat.

"This man was actually conscious and could hear us," said Pal. "The doctor said, 'We need the bed - stop all his medication'. He obviously didn't think he was going to live. I thought: we are killing someone because we want the beds......

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  • In 1993, a fourteen-year-old boy, Willie Searcy, was in a car accident that left him a "ventilator-dependent quadriplegic." For the rest of his life he was going to need machines and constant nursing to keep him alive. His parents' insurance wouldn't cover it, and the family didn't have the money to pay for it. They had a ventilator, but no backup generator in case of a power failure. Medicaid provided 104 hours per week of nursing, but it was cut to 34 hours per week when he turned 21.

    His injuries were partly caused by a defective seat belt in the Ford pickup his stepfather was driving at the time of the accident. An East Texas jury ordered Ford to pay Willie Searcy $30 million. That money would have kept him alive if he'd ever gotten it. But Ford's legal team took the case to the Texas Supreme Court, where, unfortunately for Willie Searcy, the judge who took the case was Priscilla Owen:

    Two years after the lawyers representing Willie Searcy and the lawyers representing Ford had requested an expedited hearing, Owen wrote the majority opinion. A process that could have been completed within months of the oral argument in November 1996 dragged on until Owen completed her opinion in March 1998.

    Her opinion was stunning. Not because it ruled against Willie Searcy and his mother, Susan Miles, but because of how it ruled against them. Owens ruled the case would have to be retried in Dallas because it was initially filed in the wrong venue. Yet venue was not among the issues, or "points of error," the court said it would consider two years earlier when it took up the case. "We felt like we got ambushed," said Ayres. A lawyer who had worked at the court at the time agreed: "If venue wasn't in the points of error, it is unusual that the court addressed it. If the justices decide they want the court to address something not in the points of error, they would ask for additional briefing. They send letters to the parties and ask for briefing." There had been no letters and no requests.

    Willie Searcy's case was a textbook example of "results oriented" justice that is common in Texas. Often, judges first determine the desired outcome of a case. Then they adapt the facts and the law to make it happen. It was also a glaring example of judicial activism, or making law from the bench, which is anathema to conservative Republicans -- unless it serves their purposes, as it did in the Terri Schiavo case.

    These rulings are not entirely informed by the justices' love for certain principles of law. If the Texas Supreme Court is the most business-friendly bench in the nation -- and it is -- it's because corporate interests pay for the justices' election campaigns. Of the $175,328 Owen took in from the Texas defense bar while Willie Searcy's case moved through the courts, she got $20,450 from Baker Botts, the mega-firm run by Bush family consigliere James A. Baker III. Baker Botts was part of Ford's defense team.

    It would be another three years before the Dallas Court of Appeals handed down a ruling giving Willie Searcy's family money to care for him. But it was too late. Four days after the ruling, his ventilator stopped working during the night. When his mother went into his room at 5 a.m., he was dead.

    He was 21 years old.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:04 PM  

  • Priscilla Owen is one of the judges Democrats have filibustered.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:05 PM  

  • It's shocking, horrifying, devastating, but not unbelievable. This is the world that we live in. Here is one of many situations where doctors are playing God, eliminating human life, in order to provide more beds.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:07 PM  

  • CT 1824
    This makes me sick!! First of all, let me state that I do not agree with the way we treated the Iraqi prisoners overseas, but we let our own elderly die in our country, and it goes almost unheard. The soldiers "torture" prisoners in war...prisoners that are part of a group of people that behead, shoot, and bomb the innocent, and it is in every headline. Just goes to show how screwed up our media is!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:59 PM  

  • This is such a shame to me. We should treat the elderly with gentle care and compassion. Elderly citizens have been through and endured more than we have and they are delicate and fragile. They deserve to spend their final years in comfort and relaxation, not abuse. I am an only child and I pray that I am around to take care of my mother. It's scary to think that she could end up at the mercy of one of these doctors.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:56 PM  

  • TB9131
    This is unethical and said to say. I don't think that this is anything new and has been going on and on forever. Just think of the things that happens to the ederly that no one ever speaks off. Who is their voices? They can not tell of the awful treatment that they are receiving. I think it's terrible that people would dare to be in the profession of helping people but would then treat them inhuman. I belive this is a bigger problem then we are aware of as a society and something must be done to protect the elderly. Many don't have family or friends to speak up for them or to look after their health and treatment that they are receiving at these facilities. I applaud this doctor for her honesty and straight- forwardness. It must have been hard for her to see and hear about this type of treatment the elderly people were getting in her presence. Hopefully this is an eye opener and something will be done to protect the elderly.

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