A 30-year old woman who tried to commit suicide last year but found it “too undignified” is now taking her doctors to court for refusing to agree to her demand for euthanasia. Diagnosed with a terminal disease that doctors estimate leaves her with less than a year to live, Taylor is demanding that her doctors give her enough morphine to put her into a comatose state, and then withhold food and water from her until she dies from starvation and dehydration, The Scotsman reported Feb.13. Her doctors have refused, saying the procedure would constitute euthanasia.
It is not illegal to administer sufficient medication to control pain, even if the necessary drug levels may inadvertently cause the death of the patient. As well, it is now legally permissible for an individual to sign a “living will” rejecting artificial food or water in the case of severe incapacitation, as Taylor has done. In Taylor’s case, however, the doctors have said that the two actions requested by the disabled woman constitute euthanasia, since the intention of the actions taken together would be to cause her death. In July 2006 Taylor tried to commit suicide by starving herself to death but found it too painful. After 19 days she decided the process of death by starvation was less dignified than living with the pain and disability of her condition, according to The Scotsman report, and began to take food. Taylor has launched a lawsuit claiming the doctors are violating her human rights by refusing to help her commit suicide. Her lawyers have applied for a court order that would force the physicians to accede to her demands or help her find another physician willing to carry out the lethal procedure. Taylor’s lawyers will argue that the doctors’ refusal violates a section of the European Convention on Human Rights that bans “inhuman or degrading treatment.” The disabled woman was born with the heart and lung condition Eisenmenger’s syndrome, as well as a spinal defect known as Klippel-Feil syndrome. She is allergic to many pain medications, making it difficult for her doctors to control her pain levels. “I’m not depressed--I am a happy person,” Taylor said. “But my illness is now at the point where I don’t want to deal with it any more. My consultant has told me he does not expect me to live for another year. In that time I will deteriorate and that deterioration will become quite undignified. I want to avoid that.” Doctors in the UK were warned in November that they could face prison sentences if they refused to follow patients’ demands for cessation of medical treatment, food and water, even if it would result in the patient’s death. Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor of England, made the statement while unveiling new guidelines for doctors under the Mental Capacity Act that comes into effect this spring. “If you are satisfied that an advance decision exists which is valid and applicable, then not to abide by it could lead to a legal claim for damages or a criminal prosecution for assault,” the guidelines state. Alex Schadenberg, executive director of Canada’s Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, warned at the time that the Act was a preliminary step in the introduction of “euthanasia by omission.” Schadenberg told LifeSiteNews.com that the Act allowed for the intentional killing of patients who would not otherwise be dying by withholding food and fluids. An initial hearing of Taylor’s case took place yesterday at London’s High Court.