Use of NHS Liverpool Care Pathway Expanded to Kill Children

In a disturbing article, The Daily Mail reports that NHS hospitals now put children on the Liverpool Care Pathway, withholding food and fluids from young patients and severely disabled newborns. Critics say that it is impossible to say when a patient will die. Using the Liverpool Care Pathway makes death become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To see how its defenders think, see this letter from Margaret McCartney in the BMJ. Dr. McCartney repeats the intent of the protocol, slams the messenger, and states that “Dying well should be a priority for healthcare professionals and managers.”

In response to a columnist who wrote that the protocol for withdrawing food or water is “starving or dehydrating someone to death. And that is not helping them to die, but killing them.” Dr. McCartney protests that the pathway does not preclude artificial hydration and accuses the columnist of insisting that “doctors must provide ineffective and potential [sic] harmful interventions of no value and at all costs.”

Comments (9)

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  1. Thomas says:

    For shame if these claims are legitimate.

  2. Slater says:

    What an alarming story. It definitely wakes me up to the realities of the health care industry.

  3. August says:

    If you read the rest of the article you get to this…

    “Death has too often been regarded as medical failure rather than an inevitable consequence of life. The Liverpool care pathway was developed because of the acknowledgment that many terminally ill people were dying on general medical wards rather than in hospices or at home. The pathway focuses on control of symptoms, comfort, and alleviation of distress”

    “More than 20 organisations, professional and voluntary, issued a statement backing the use of the Liverpool care pathway in October,11 and statements of support have also emerged from the Christian Medical Fellowship and from a chaplain writing for the Catholic Herald.”

  4. Cindy says:

    Sad. But I’d imagine it’s a wrenching decision either way when you’re faced with end-of-life care. It seems as though it should really be a matter of choice for the individual and for their families.

  5. Sebastian Alexander says:

    This story tears you apart, for sure. Nevertheless, we are at a point in medical technology where you could keep a severely disabled newborn baby alive “forever” if we committed the resources to do it.

    On the one hand, it is better that the policy is transparent and discussed in the medical journals than taking place “underground.” But that is not good enough.

    You can’t just starve and dehydrate a baby because it’s taking up too many resources. The matter needs to be debated and voted on in Parliament, not just come about within the profession and bureaucracy.

    As an economist, I’m also forced to ask the calculating question of how these deaths will be reported to the OECD for the purpose of international comparisons of infant mortality. I think that they need to be reported as their own category, so that we can see the consequences of these policies.

  6. cheyenne says:

    @ August I am not sure what the point is to be made by your comment. So what if 20 organizations support it, and when does anybody give any credence to what the Catholic church says these days? A majority approval of something does not necessarily make it right. Even if the Liverpool Pathway is the ethical thing to do, why allow a baby to shrivel and die? Wouldn’t it be more humane to lethally inject the infant and let it die quickly. Geez, Texas death row inmates get better treatment than this.

  7. Spencer says:

    This is so incredibly disturbing. If they goal is to “help” a newborn or a kid die, then why do it the slowest possible way?! by starving and dehydrating them to death they are only making the process more painful and horrifying for the patients. Nowadays, if physicians really wanted to try and keep these patients alive, they would find one way or another to make it happen through all the medical advances there are. If what they want to is to get rid of sick patients faster (not saying I agree with this by any means), then they could also do it the most efficient possible way if they put their heart to it. It almost seems like they just want these kids to suffer. Horrible.

  8. Life of Pi says:

    Disturbing, what is the reasoning behind making someone suffer at such intense levels.

  9. Jordan says:

    This is so disturbing as to make me skeptical.