Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Some good news on the euthanasia front

Dr Michael Munro is a Consultant neonatologist in the UK. He administered a muscle relaxant drug to two dying children to relieve their distress. Munro used about 23 times the recommended dosage, leading to the suggestion that he actually committed an act of euthanasia. I have no doubt that this is precisely what he did. It is also beyond doubt that he did what he did with the children's best interest at heart. Surely, there is no point in keeping a dying baby alive while he or she suffers tremendously. If that is so, arguably there can't be much wrong with hastening the death of such a dying human being in order to end what is arguably a life that is not worth living.

Well, interestingly, the UK's statutory doctors' body, the GMC, concluded that the doctor's treatment was 'tantamount to euthanasia', and also, at the same time, that the doctor's fitness to practise was not affected by his actions. I think it is quite significant that the GMC has decided that this course of action was in the best interest of the children, and that the doctor's actions did not constitute sanctionable professional misconduct.

Here are some more details about the case from a story which appeared on the BBC News website.

'Consultant neonatologist Michael Munro, 41, gave 23 times the normal dose of a muscle relaxant at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital, medical watchdogs were told. ... Dr Munro was working in the neonatal unit of Aberdeen Maternity Hospital on 5 December, 2005, when a child - known only as Baby X - was born more than three months premature. The panel heard that the child suffered a brain haemorrhage and the decision was taken to withdraw treatment after its condition worsened. On 20 December, the baby's breathing tube was removed and doctors began a course of morphine to ease the child's suffering. As Baby X became weak it began to struggle to breathe. A normal consequence of treatment withdrawal, the condition is known as agonal gasping. Dr Munro told Baby X's parents he could give the child a drug but "it was on the verge of what society finds acceptable", the hearing was told. He then injected the child with 2,000mg of the drug which, he admits, hastened the death of Baby X. ... Despite telling investigators he had never before administered Pancuronium, the inquiry discovered he had injected a second child with the muscle relaxant six months earlier. Outlining the case for the GMC, Andrew Long said: "Dr Munro administered a muscle relaxant drug called Pancuronium to both babies which stopped them breathing and hastened their death. ... The GMC assert it was all of these things and tantamount to a form of euthanasia even though death was inevitable. The hearing heard both sets of parents "fully supported the doctor's actions and were grateful to him". '

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