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Withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration from minimally conscious and vegetative patients: family perspectives

Kitzinger, Celia and Kitzinger, Jenny ORCID: 2015. Withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration from minimally conscious and vegetative patients: family perspectives. Journal of Medical Ethics 41 (2) , pp. 157-160. 10.1136/medethics-2013-101799

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In W v M, family members made an application to the Court of Protection for withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration from a minimally conscious patient. Subsequent scholarly discussion has centred around the ethical adequacy of the judge’s decision not to authorise withdrawal. This article brings a different perspective by drawing on interviews with 51 individuals with a relative who is (or was) in a vegetative or minimally conscious state (MCS). Most professional medical ethicists have treated the issue as one of life versus death; by contrast, families—including those who believed that their relative would not have wanted to be kept alive—focused on the manner of the proposed death and were often horrified at the idea of causing death by ‘starvation and dehydration’. The practical consequence of this can be that people in permanent vegetative state (PVS) and MCS are being administered life-prolonging treatments long after their families have come to believe that the patient would rather be dead. We suggest that medical ethicists concerned about the rights of people in PVS/ MCS need to take this empirical data into account in seeking to apply ethical theories to medico-legal realities

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA1001 Forensic Medicine. Medical jurisprudence. Legal medicine
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license.
Publisher: BMJ Publishing Group
ISSN: 0306-6800
Funders: Wellcome Trust, Brocher Foundation
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Date of Acceptance: 5 November 2013
Last Modified: 10 May 2023 10:15

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