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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 14:53 GMT
Feeding rule fear is 'unfounded'
Les Burke
Les Burke fears he will starve to death unable to communicate
A patient's fears doctors may deny him life-prolonging treatment are unfounded, the High Court has heard.

Leslie Burke, who has a degenerative brain condition, wants guidelines outlining when food and drink can be stopped to be outlawed.

He fears doctors could withdraw artificial feeding against his wishes when he can no longer communicate.

But Dinah Rose, for the General Medical Council, said there was no evidence the guidance could be interpreted that way.

Mr Burke, 44, from Lancaster, says the GMC guidance is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, which enshrines the right to life.

The GMC guidance covers situations where death is not imminent, but doctors believe a patient's condition is so severe, and their prognosis so poor, that artificial nutrition or hydration - giving water - causes more suffering than benefit.

Physically my body will deteriorate, but I will be mentally alert the whole time
Leslie Burke
The guidance says that if patients are no longer able to communicate their views, doctors must judge what the patient would want, based on earlier discussions or written statements, and in consultation with patient's relatives.

Ms Rose told the court on the second day of the hearing: "There is no evidence at all before the court that any doctor has ever proposed, or has any intention of proposing, that should he require artificial feeding and hydration it would not be provided to him.

"There is no suggestion by any doctor that they believe the guidance issued by the GMC might encourage or permit them to withdraw artificial nutrition or hydration from Mr Burke."

However she said the GMC would welcome guidance from the court if it felt there were ways their advice could be clarified.

'Mentally alert'

Earlier, Richard Gordon, QC for Mr Burke, told the court: "Guidance is, or must be, we suggest, understood easily by those required to read it."

Before the hearing Mr Burke, who has needed to use a wheelchair for the last 12 years, said: "I am doing this because I may well end up in the position where I need artificial hydration and nutrition.

"Physically my body will deteriorate, but I will be mentally alert the whole time.

"I may not be able to communicate with the doctors, and it takes two to three weeks to die when hydration and nutrition is withdrawn, and I will be acutely aware of that every single day and physically not able to do anything about it."

He said he would ultimately like the GMC guidelines to be withdrawn, but hoped the council would at least reconsider its recommendations.

The hearing was adjourned until Monday.

Patient fights for food and fluid
23 Feb 04  |  Lancashire
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23 Jun 99  |  Health

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