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Leg Stud. 2000 Mar;20(1):66-84.

Beyond Bland: a critique of the BMA guidance on withholding and withdrawing medical treatment.

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  • 1University of Cambridge, UK.


In Bland the House of Lords held it lawful to withdraw tube-feeding from a patient in a 'persistent vegetative state' (pvs), even with intent to kill him. The British Medical Association (BMA) recently published guidance on the withholding and withdrawal of 'medical treatment', so defined as to include food and water delivered by tube. The guidance endorses the withholding/withdrawal of tube-delivered food and water not only from patients in pvs but also from other non-terminally ill patients, such as those with severe dementia or serious stroke. The underlying justification appears (as in Bland) to be that such lives lack worth. This article offers three major criticisms of the guidance. First, its argument that tube-feeding is medical treatment rather than basic care is weak. Secondly, its reasons for not treating or tube-feeding undermine the BMA's long-standing opposition to active euthanasia and active assisted suicide. Thirdly, it relies heavily on legal precedent at the expense of ethical reasoning.

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