Those lobbying for the “right to die” for people with serious
medical conditions have been so successful in generating attention
to their cause that the “right to live” argument rather fell by the
So we welcome the judgement in favour of disability rights adviser
Leslie Burke, who feared his degenerative brain disorder would one
day lead to doctors hastening his death on the grounds that his
quality of life had deteriorated.
Ever since the legal ruling that doctors could withdraw artificial
feeding from Hillsborough stadium victim Tony Bland, who was left
in a persistent vegetative state, many severely disabled people
have felt uneasy about their relationship with the medical
The Bland case led to the medical establishment producing
guidelines on when drip-feeding could be halted. But, as the judge
in the latest case pointed out, there are serious flaws in those
guidelines. For one thing, they are based on a “quality of life”
test that puts too much power in the hands of the doctor. A medic
may well feel that a patient with severe disabilities has a poor
quality of life. But that person may argue, “Actually I’m
The new ruling helps swing the balance back in favour of the
individual. For disabled people this is a real life or death issue.
There will be widely differing views among disabled people
themselves. And this is a tricky ethical area for all concerned.
But the least people should be able to expect is that, when
difficult decisions have to be made, the outcome accords with their
wishes, not someone else’s.