Tuesday, October 9, 2012

VSED–VRFF: The Barbara Grainger Case

75-year-old Barbara Grainger was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2008.  She decided that, life with the disease would, for her, be intolerable.  Barbara had hoped for a quick and pain-free death with lethal drugs in Switzerland.  But the disease progressed so rapidly that she lost her ability to swallow before her family could finalize arrangements.  (Belfast Telegraph)

So, Barbara instead opted for voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED) also known as voluntary refusal of food and fluids (VRFF).  Unfortunately, Barbara’s cessation of food and fluid was not complete, thus prolonging her death for 24 days.  In contrast, most VSED deaths occur within 10 to 14 days after the patient stops intake of food and fluid. 

Yes, some patients may prefer physician aid-in-dying (PAID).  But VRFF-VSED is, as I have argued, a comfortable and respected option.  Unfortunately, many advocates of PAID legalization denigrate the benefits and over-emphasize the risks of VSED-VRFF to accentuate the need for PAID.  After all, the availability of VSED-VRFF lessens the need for PAID.  The availability of multiple options weakens the case that any one option is needed.  

To be sure, PAID has some advantages over VSED-VRFF, just as VSED-VRFF has some advantages over PAID.  This is preference sensitive medicine.  Proponents of PAID should not push for the availability of one "exit option" at the expense of another.  Both options should be available.

3 comments:

william Peace said...

Do have any idea how offensive this sentence is? "She wanted to avoid the indignity of having a healthy mind stuck in a useless body". So if you have a disability your body is useless and you lack dignity? I am not sure if you can be any more dehumanizing. I cannot believe you wrote this. Really! Does this mean my paralyzed body is useless too? Have you ever asked a person who is paralyzed how they feel about their body? I may be paralyzed but I can assure you my legs serve many useful functions. Dignity has nothing to do with disability or one's ability to control their body.

Thaddeus Mason Pope, J.D., Ph.D. said...

Mr. Peace, I have "corrected" the text of the post.

I un-reflectively imported that language from the news stories on which I relied.

But to be fair, I think that the fairest reading of the original text is that Barbara HERSELF wanted to avoid what she HERSELF judged to be undignified. You may not agree with that judgment. I actually do not agree with it either. But it is her body and her value judgment to make.

Nothing in the original text suggested that Barbara's judgment is objectively or universally correct or desirable.

Still, I thank you for cautioning me to be more precise and careful in my language. This will help assure my own thinking is clearer and fairer.

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