The NHS "death pathway"

Once government takes over health care, we won’t see death panels.  We’ve been repeatedly assured of this by the Obama administration and the national media.  At least thus far, they’re right, but our friends in the UK apparently aren’t as fortunate.  A group of doctors have blown the whistle on the NHS for suspending hydration to supposedly terminally ill patients to hasten their demises:

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, a group of experts who care for the terminally ill claim that some patients are being wrongly judged as close to death.

Under NHS guidance introduced across England to help doctors and medical staff deal with dying patients, they can then have fluid and drugs withdrawn and many are put on continuous sedation until they pass away.

But this approach can also mask the signs that their condition is improving, the experts warn.

As a result the scheme is causing a “national crisis” in patient care, the letter states. It has been signed palliative care experts including Professor Peter Millard, Emeritus Professor of Geriatrics, University of London, Dr Peter Hargreaves, a consultant in Palliative Medicine at St Luke’s cancer centre in Guildford, and four others.

These actions did not result from instructions in living wills, or from demands by next of kin.  Patients got killed through sedated dehydration in order to save time and money for the resource-strapped NHS.  It’s called the “death pathway,” initially designed as a humane way of hastening death in the final hours.  However, the application has broadened to more diseases and diagnoses than its formerly narrow scope, and the triggers have become more ambiguous.  That leads, these doctors warn, to a self-fulfilling prophecy of death when it might be avoided.

In fact, the incentives of the NHS appear to be driving those self-fulfilling prophecies.  According to a study quoted in the Telegraph, 16.5% of all deaths in Britain came after continuous deep sedation, more than twice the rate of Belgium and the Netherlands, the latter of which has euthanasia as part of its policy.  Given the financial difficulties of the NHS and the need to stretch resources, it seems unlikely that expediency has nothing to do with the sudden popularity of the “death pathway”.

When government controls all the resources and makes all the decisions, the “death pathway” is an entirely predictable result.  Patients and their families no longer control the decisions made in health care, because they no longer control the compensation.  Even if the “death pathway” doesn’t appear in the ObamaCare bill, the nationalization of heath care sets the stage for the kind of “comparative effectiveness” decisions that lead to its implementation.