467 e-Letters

  • Caveats in the management of prolonged disorders of consciousness

    Dear Editor,

    We would like to congratulate Dr Derick T Wade on the article advocating a formalised approach to best interest meetings for people suffering from prolonged disorders of consciousness (1). It is a bold and pragmatic approach, borne out of his extensive experience, which will undoubtedly be of use to the practicing clinicians in the concerned jurisdiction. We are writing to supplement it with a few points which we consider worthy of additional noting.

    Firstly, we are glad of the title using the term “prolonged disorder of consciousness” given that persistent vegetative state (PVS) and minimally conscious state (MCS) are problematic from phenomenological and practical points of view. As Dr Wade notes, the two are difficult to differentiate and in practice permanence takes significant and possibly indeterminate time to establish. Unfortunately, the Law maintains a distinction between the two founded in the leading case of Anthony Bland. Abolishing the distinction would in practice prevent splitting hairs over what is likely to be an equally tragic outcome for the individual concerned, and the surviving relatives. From a legal and philosophical point of view, it can be argued, as it was in the Bland case, that patients in PVS lack any “best interests”. To quote Lord Mustill – “The distressing truth which must not be shirked, is that the proposed conduct is not in the best interests of Anthony Bland, for he has no best interests of any kind” – ackno...

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  • Response to :Back to the bedside? Making clinical decisions in patients with prolonged unconsciousness

    The area of consciousness is an ever-evolving discussion particularly in relation to approaches to assessment of awareness. The paper by Wade (2016) further advances the discussion on this complex topic. The purpose of this response aims to put forward alternative views regarding points raised by Professor Wade in his paper “Back to the bedside? Making clinical decision in patients with prolonged unconsciousness” (J. Med. Ethics 2016; 0:1-7).
    (67 words)

    In this response, a number of key issues raised by Professor Wade will be explored. These include assessment modalities, the debate relating to consciousness as a spectrum, and the emphasis- or lack thereof, on the value of rigours clinical assessment in diagnosing awareness.

    Assessment Modalities
    In his article, Professor Wade alluded to the lack of evidence to support visual tracking as an indicator for the presence of awareness. Despite gaps in the evidence to support the relevance of tracking in making a diagnosis, it continues to be a common bedside screening tool used by both physicians and other clinicians, and has been endorsed by the working party of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP); of which Professor Wade was the co-chair, as an important clinical indicator of awareness (RCP 2013, pg.7 box 1.1). Professor Wade identified the numerous reasons why tracking may be challenging for a person with severe brain injury including oculomotor impairments, visual...

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  • If Only Dogs Could Talk.

    Dogs have been deliberately bred to be reliant on humans for company as well as to take advantage of their unique skills and intelligence, used in various ways as working dogs , such as sheep herders ,where empathy, attachment and love are blatantly obvious. They are entitled to be cared for , not to be exploited as a substitute for the human guinea pigs of the past. Using dogs which have been discarded by their owners is doubly abhorrent as regarding their lives as even more worthless. It is reminiscent of the recent past again where disabled and ill and people regarded as inferior were used for experimentation. Referring to the dogs, even in quotes, as 'volunteers' is simply disingenuous. Volunteering includes an act of willingness and agreement to procedures,
    There is no question of consent of course but ethical issues are inherent in using brain scanning of other groups of often vulnerable people. They have some ethical protection but the urge to 'progress' has often fudged this. Neuropsychiatry is involved in experimentation using scans to diagnose areas of the brain which are claimed to be involved in mental health problems including the highly stigmatising and to some extent catch all label of Personality Disorder. Using scans as a tool for providing treatment designed to change a person's brain ,including psychotherapy ,raises serious ethical questions. How would people give informed consent to having scan...

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  • Masters and Nutt draw attention to deficiencies in Emanuel, Wendler, and Grady 2000.

    In their intriguing 'Plutocratic Proposal' (J Med Ethics 2017), Masters and Nutt note that the 'Matching Agencies' acting as intermediaries between benefactors and the beneficiaries would need to do systematic reviews of all known existing research and commit to publishing full research results, both for their own reputations and for legal protection . Masters and Nutt point out out that these are definitely ethical matters, and that failure to do one or both has had fatal consequences for patients and research participants.

    How can it be that Emanuel, Wendler and Grady did not even mention these two vital points concerning publication in their original list of seven ethical requirements? (JAMA 2000:283:701-7011).

  • Briggs versus Briggs [2016] EWCOP 53: The clash of the ‘sanctity of life’ and the ‘third- party determination’ of the best interests

    To The Editor

    Kitzinger et al argued in favor of applying “the ‘holistic’ approach outlined in the Briggs judgment” to ascertain, in Court and ‘on the floor’, what in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) ought to be considered a patient’s best-interest assessment.[1] In Briggs versus Briggs [2016] EWCOP 53 , “all parties were required to address the question of [Paul Briggs’s] ‘best interests rather than seeking to apply the standard of ‘substituted judgment’.”[2] Authors correctly pointed out that the MCA mandates, next to consideration of a person’s past and present wishes and feelings, values and beliefs, the inclusion of other relevant circumstances, i.e., diagnosis, prognosis and ‘sanctity of life’. Kitzinger et al postulated that this holistic approach to the best interest standard not only should be the preferred pathway over that of the ‘substituted judgment’ standard, but, if widely accepted, would make a positive contribution to “the texture and quality of best-interest decision making about these patients [with disorders of consciousness] ‘on the ground’”.[1] They further highlighted the significance of the Briggs judgment because of “the great weight [Mr Justice] Charles J gave the person’s own views, even when set against ‘sanctity of life’.”

    There are theoretical and practical problems with Kitzinger et al’s position.

    First, it is incorrect to describe the Briggs case as the clash of ‘sanctity of life’ and ‘self-determinat...

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  • Care or Kill?

    Rivera Lopez in his astounding article [1] proposes the duty to kill and is happy not to consider the counter arguments, but just follow his line of thought!!
    He is among those prepared to cross the line of taking a life or at least consider such acts in theory. His view demonstrates a very restricted outlook on life, seeing nothing beyond the concrete. It seems a bit drastic or simplistic to get rid of problems by getting rid of the people who have them. If treatment or life itself is burdensome, it can be lightened in many more caring ways. As a GP, I see what a dying person can give to others and the intangible benefits of suffering; in bringing of the family together, acknowledging the heartbreak and drawing out good in others by accompanying and self-giving. I have also seen destruction of the joy in a family by suicide and the feeling of failure among those left behind. Human dignity is found in being supported and loved, not being killed.
    Another consideration is that we do not know how those who cross the line will bear up psychologically after many years of this justified killing. Doctors in Ontario, where euthanasia has been permitted by law last year, are backing out as they find that they “go through one experience and it’s just overwhelming, it’s too difficult, and those are the ones who say, ‘take my name off the list. I can’t do any more.’ ” [2] Are we prepared to risk making killing part of the medical practice and wait to see the damage?

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  • Is it conscientious objection at all?

    This is a thought provoking paper but I wonder if it is founded on a false premise. It strikes me that a conscientious objection only applies if the surgeon has an obligation to undertake a cosmetic surgery procedure. If there is no obligation they are simply declining to carry out the procedure. Presumably this may be because the surgeon decides the procedure is not in the best interests of the patient. Since the surgeon is primarily an expert in physical, bodily function they should base their judgement of best interest on those grounds. Of course, if this reasoning is sound, fewer cosmetic procedures should perhaps be performed than currently are.

  • The Rights of Terrible People
    susanne stevens

    There are surely situations where responses of disgust and other reactions to extreme violence must be respected. How much they effect the justice system as well as the medical professionals' ability to act strictly according to laws and ethical guidelines is probably difficult to investigate. The case of Peter Sutcliffe - a violent mass murderer in UK is not quite the same scenario as the article describes but it is...

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  • Prostitution is not justified by sexual "needs": an alternative to full legalisation
    Nathan Hodson

    Earp and Moen demonstrate the absence of a relevant difference between the use of prostitutes by disabled people and by shy, ugly, libidinous, able-bodied people, and the impossibility of circumscribing the latter[1]. This is incorporated into a case for the full legalisation of prostitution based on: (a) the absence of a justification for its prohibition; and (b) the "needs" it meets. We posit that (b) misrepresents pro...

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  • Kissing Paediatric Patients
    P K Coulson-Smith

    From the beginnings of our lives as doctors, we are taught about professionalism. Professionalism encourages and enables doctors to maintain focus on the patient's needs and treatment.

    Kissing a child oversteps the boundary of professionalism. Such contact shifts thinking from the patient to the professional and meets the professional's emotional needs rather than the patient's.

    Physical contact with p...

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