A story from the United Kingdom is gaining attention in recent days for the shocking implications for care of the vulnerable and the future of assisted suicide legislation. The story involves the killing of a 34-year-old man, referred to in court documents as MSP, who was not terminally ill but struggled with significant health challenges for a decade.
In an astonishing turn of events, the court ruled that doctors could keep MSP in a medically induced coma while withdrawing nutrition and hydration, slowly starving and dehydrating him to death.
The background for the case is complex, but the lethal actions taken by the hospital allegedly with the support of MSP’s parents are simple and disturbing. MSP suffered from a complicated but treatable bowel condition for a decade, which required intensive life-saving treatment on previous occasions. According to sources, MSP expressed a desire never to have a permanent stoma, an opening in the abdominal cavity to collect waste from the body, fearing that a permanent stoma would inhibit his self-perception and social life.
After having a temporary stoma, MSP reportedly made an advance directive stating that he would choose not to live if the only other option were a permanent stoma. In recent months, MSP was admitted to the hospital in serious condition and agreed to have a stoma as a form of life-saving treatment. After the operation, the hospital indicated that the stoma would likely be permanent.
His family, fearing that he would attempt suicide if released from the hospital, requested that he be kept heavily sedated and slowly killed through starvation and dehydration. The hospital then petitioned the courts, and the high court agreed to the killing of a non-terminally ill young man with a severe but treatable condition.
Writing for National Review Wesley J. Smith observed, “This is a profound abandonment, albeit by a judge and parents trying to do the right thing.”
He continued, “MSP is being given no chance of recovery. No chance of adjusting to new circumstances. No chance of receiving intensive mental-health interventions that might help him overcome his despair. No chance of finding happiness. No chance of finding a job. No chance of finding a woman to love. No chance at life.”
Smith noted that anyone else experiencing similarly suicidal thoughts would be given much-needed care, not turned over to a slow, barbaric, and unnecessary death.
The attitude of the court, the hospital, and MSP’s parents is clearly an attempt at compassion but is, in fact, inhumane and unjust. Court documents frequently refer to the patient’s “best interest,” but the person notably not consulted in his death was the patient himself. As many disability rights activists have noted, the idea that life is “not worth living” with a serious medical condition is discriminatory and demonstrably untrue. Although many people understandably experience acute depression following an accident or incident that results in a significant, lifelong disability, studies show that overtime and with appropriate support, people are able to reinvent themselves and thrive.
Disturbingly, one of the judges in MSP’s case even acknowledged this, writing, “Many people require a stoma to be fitted and I have no doubt that the vast majority make the necessary accommodations to ensure that it does not unnecessarily inhibit their enjoyment of life or become an impediment to their personal and sexual relationships.”
Without consulting the patient, who remained at that time in a medically managed coma, the judge claimed, “However, this was simply not the case with MSP. There is powerful evidence that as a young man in his thirties who, as his sister has said, ‘knew he was good looking’, MSP could never accept life with a stoma.”
In a chilling line determining the fate of a young man who likely had many more years with a very challenging but treatable condition, the judge wrote, “No amount of support, love or understanding could change MSP’s mind. The stoma, it seems to me, ran entirely contrary to MSP’s perception of who he is. Its existence was corrosive to his self-esteem.”
Thus, in a country in which assisted suicide is not legal, the high court found a means of ruling in favor of the killing of a man who was not terminally ill. The judges acknowledged that the advance directive was not properly executed and could not be fully verified. Yet, in MSP’s case, as with many others, the person with the medical challenge or disability is not consulted and the family is left to determine if the patient wants to die, a cruel and horrific injustice.