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Natural deaths while driving: would screening for risk be ethically justified?
  1. L H Cheng,
  2. R M Whittington
  1. Leeds Dental Institute, Birmingham.


    OBJECTIVES: To determine the epidemiology and the underlying pathological conditions of natural deaths among motor vehicle drivers. Sudden death while driving may cause damage to properties, other vehicles or road users. Although the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention recommended restrictions to drivers at risk of sudden death due to their medical conditions, these restrictions are useless if they do not result in greater safety to the public. DESIGN: A retrospective study of natural deaths of motor vehicle drivers. SETTING: Natural deaths of motor vehicle drivers reported to the coroner for Birmingham and Solihull. SUBJECTS: 86 consecutive natural deaths of motor vehicle drivers in a five-year period between 1984 and 1988. RESULTS: Of the 86 fatalities reviewed, 80 (93%) sudden deaths were caused by ischaemic heart disease. Fifty vehicles were involved in collision with 32 properties, 20 other vehicles and six pedestrians. Fifty-one out of 80 cardiac deaths had past cardiac history and three had reported chest pain prior to the sudden death. CONCLUSION: An applied normative ethical assessment based on the basic moral principles of autonomy, justice, beneficence and non-maleficence are discussed. We conclude that medical screening of drivers has little benefit for the drivers or other persons.

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