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Inside The Ethics Committee 2009 - Advanced Directive

Updated Tuesday, 10th August 2010

How do hospitals care for people who no longer wish to be kept alive?

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Hospital bed Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: By Mike Lacon via Flickr under Creative Commons licence

The Open University and BBC Radio 4 come together again in order to explore a real-life ethical dimemma. What would you do if you were faced with the following situation?

A woman is brought to A&E by her husband. She is unconscious having attempted suicide. Her suicide note says she has taken an overdose to escape severe arthritis which has confined her to a wheelchair for the last 6 months and given her many years of pain. Having witnessed one of her parents' and one of her husband’s parents deaths in distressing circumstances years ago, she has always maintained with everyone she knew that she doesn't ever want to be admitted to intensive care. She has left five copies of her Advance Directive with her husband, sister, daughter, lawyer and GP.

The staff in A&E are torn about what to do - should they admit her to intensive care and save her life, or let her die?

What should hospital staff do? Do they admit her to the Intensive Care Unit against the spirit of her advanced directive or give basic treatment knowing it might prolong her life against her wishes but prevent a slow painful death caused by the overdose?

Joan Bakewell is joined by a panel of experts to discuss the complex ethical issues around advanced directives and decision making at the end of life.

Find out more

The question of whether or not to save the patient also arose during the case of Kerrie Wooltorton.

Put your ethical decision-making into context: try one of The Open University's Ethics courses.

Can there really be an approach that allows practical ethics?

Catch up on previous dilemmas at the BBC Inside the Ethics Committee website.

First broadcast: Tuesday 10 August 2010 on BBC Radio 4




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