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2,000 killed by "involuntary euthanasia" in a year

19 January 2006

A survey conducted by Brunel University has estimated that nearly 2,000 people were killed by doctors performing "involuntary euthanasia" in 2004. The BBC report claims that a further 936 patients were killed at their own request (voluntary euthanasia). Together, the figures suggest that about 0.5% of the 584,791 UK deaths in 2004 were 'euthanasia'. Although the report does not make clear whether the questions in the survey distinguished between active and passive euthanasia, it suggests that there were many other deaths due to withholding treatment in a patient's "best interests". The survey questioned 857 doctors and found that only 2.6% favoured changing the law to permit euthanasia or assisted suicide. Dr Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, said that she was "concerned a tiny minority of doctors have apparently admitted they have acted illegally in deliberately ending a patient's life." [BBC, 17 January] A strongly pro-euthanasia leader article in the Guardian newspaper argued in favour of the Joffe Bill that seeks to legalise assisted suicide in Britain, claiming that 'it is time parliament ended a medical practice which requires too many terminally-ill patients to inch towards death through a torture chamber.' [The Guardian, 19 January]

The US Supreme Court has voted 6-3 to uphold Oregon's assisted suicide law, BBC reports. The court ruled that the federal government has no legal authority to prevent doctors in Oregon from prescribing lethal doses of medication to patients wishing to end their lives. Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, stating in the minority view: "If the term 'legitimate medical purpose' has any meaning, it surely excludes the prescription of drugs to produce death." [BBC, 17 January and CWNews, 18 January]
The US Supreme Court has overturned a decision by a lower federal court to strike down a New Hampshire parental notification law. The New Hampshire law would require parents to be informed before their underage daughter obtained an abortion. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said in her ruling that the court should not have overturned the law altogether but may address specific issues such as whether the law would place an 'undue burden' on girls seeking abortion. [CWNews, 18 January]

An 11-year-old girl in the US who was left in a coma after an alleged beating has begun responding to treatment twenty-four hours after a Massachusetts court ruled that her ventilator and tube feeding could be withdrawn. Haleigh Poutre was allegedly kicked and beaten by her stepfather Jason Strickland who could face a murder charge if she dies. Doctors had said that she was in a persistent vegetative state but she is now breathing independently and appears to be responding to stimuli. [BBC, 19 January]

The disgraced Korean scientist Hwang Woo-suk may have a patent application for his method of creating embryonic stem cell lines accepted even though it is based upon fabricated work, New Scientist reports. Lawrence Smith-Higgins of the UK Patent Office explained: "European patent examiners are not interested in whether something will work or not. The commercial world, which is where patents belong, will judge. As long as an invention is not clearly contrary to scientific laws - like time travel - research has no bearing on the grant of a patent." [New Scientist, 18 January]

The number of caesarean sections carried out in the US rose from 27.5% of all births in 2003 to 29.1% in 2004, Medical News Today. Reasons cited included personal choice and research supporting elective caesarean section. [Medical News Today, 19 January]

 
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