Value judgements and kidney dialysis
It seems that the “quality of life” ethic now encompasses more groups of people than the “unwanted” unborn, handicapped and elderly. In Britain, the Oxfordshire District Health Authority decided that a 44-year-old would no longer receive life-saving kidney dialysis treatment because “he would have died within weeks or months from his hypertension.”
Both the British Kidney Patients Association and Labour MP Lewis Carter-Jones, have called for an independent enquiry into the issue of allowing some kidney patients to die because doctors believe that it is not worth keeping them alive.
Some critics of the Health Authority’s decision have suggested it was made because the patient, Derek Sage, was “dirty and difficult.” Mr. Sage, who retired from his job as a maintenance engineer because of ill health, has lived in an Oxford hostel for single, homeless men for the past eight years.
In an interview with The Ties (January 9, 1985) Christopher Paine, the Health Authority’s district manager, rejected suggestions that the authority was practising passive euthanasia. Since an operation for a brain tumour two years ago, Mr. Paine said that Mr. Sage’s mental condition had “deteriorated.” “He will not take his tablets to keep his blood pressure down. Possibly if he had come from a better background and stable home he would still be treated.” He said that the decision to stop dialysis treatment was taken by all of the senior doctors and nurses and a social worker at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.
Mr. Sage is now staying at the Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth in North London, after the British Kidney Patients Association offered to pay $600 a week to keep him alive. He is unaware of the controversy surrounding him and says he is “happy to be here.”
Mrs. Elizabeth ward, president of the Kidney Patients Association said, “You cannot say this man’s life is more valuable or worthier than another man’s life. Can you imagine what this terrible case must mean to dialysis patients?”
Mr. Carter-Jones, MP for Eccles said that the health authority’s statement made the situation worse. “If it is true that Mr. Sage will die in a few weeks or months, why couldn’t they go on treating him for that short time? It is a cold-blooded decision which sets dangerous precedents. We cannot ask doctors to play God like this.”