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Living and Dying

Society's attitudes towards disability have fundamentally changed over the centuries. But who decides who lives and who dies?

At the heart of that question is the concept of quality of life. Campaigners say that historically many doctors make assumptions about an individual's quality of life based on what they see of a disability, rather than actually taking into account the individual's own experiences and opinion.

Where this becomes critical is in the few cases where intervention becomes all that is prolonging life artificial feeding and hydration.

Earlier in 2004, the British courts agreed with a patient that he alone was best placed to decide whether his life should be prolonged by treatment.

The man in question said his disability may lead to a situation where doctors would then assume he wanted to die, and would cut off artificial feeding.

If society is to value disabled people as equals, say campaigners, then the medical establishment and society as a whole has to rethink how it sees and reacts towards disability.

Only then, they argue, can society have a more rational discussion about medical care including the fraught areas of euthanasia or assisted suicide.

Members of the US paralympic team visit the Acropolis which is now wheelchair accessible
Members of the US Paralympic team visit the Acropolis which is now wheelchair accessible
A patient's request or advance directive should be respected by the doctor
Any disagreement on proposed action should go to court
Withdrawal of artificial feeding must only be on grounds that to continue makes the patient's life "intolerable"
In emergencies, patients must receive treatment until stable


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