Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In a muddle about the 'right' to die

The BBC website carries a characteristically confused article about what it describes as a 'right to die' case involving a thirteen-year-old girl. Hannah Jones suffered from childhood leukaemia and the drugs she has had to take from the age of five have weakened her heart, leaving her terminally ill. She has refused a heart transplant which may or may not be successful and even if successful would require medication for the rest of her life. She has shown herself to be competent to make such a decision and has convinced the authorities that she is not being coerced by anyone else into refusing treatment.

Contrary to media reports, this case has nothing to do with euthanasia. It can be perfectly ethical for a person to refuse burdensome treatment and this appears to be what Hannah is asking: that she be allowed to live out the rest of her life at home and to be spared invasive treatment that offers only a limited prospect of success. She has in many way made a courageous decision and it should be respected, but it should be seen for what it is - a decision to refuse treatment, not a desire to die.