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Breaking News Massachusetts Women Saved by Court Decision from Starvation Death

ve8QAd   |   November 13, 2000

Breaking News Archive 2004

Massachusetts Women Saved by Court Decision from Starvation Death

BRIDGEWATER, Another US hospital has fought, – and lost – a battle to kill a vulnerable patient. Massachusetts General Hospital went to court to attempt, despite the presence of a legal health proxy and clearly stated wishes to the contrary, to have Barbara Howe starved and dehydrated to death on the grounds that “she was suffering.” Increasingly, hospital ethics committees are finding reasons to end the life of patients against their own or their family’s wishes.

Barbara Howe suffers from advanced Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She has been on a ventilator since 1999 and her daughter, Carol, is her legal protector. In April 2001, Carol received a letter from Barbara’s primary care physician, J. Andrew Billings, that said, “After three weeks I will discontinue all measures that keep your mother alive without contributing to her comfort.”

Fortunately, Barbara had many conversations with her daughter where she unambiguously stated that she did not want to be euthanized. “She told me she wanted all aggressive treatment done unless she became brain dead or semi-comatose. And I’m talking for her today, feeling, what she would say if she could sit up in the bed, she would say, ‘Continue until God takes me. I don’t want Dr. Billings taking my life, I want God taking my life,'” said Carol. Barbara is unable to speak but is not comatose and Carol reports that she appreciates her family’s visits.

Ominously, the hospital’s chief medical officer has not apologized for the attempt to euthanize an unwilling patient. In a statement, Dr. Britain Nicholson merely said that the hospital would continue to provide for Barbara’s care but would not “artificially prolong her life beyond what it should be.” In many places, such as the Netherlands, where euthanasia is openly practiced, a doctor, not the patient, is allowed to decide how long a person’s life “should be.”


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