“A Balance of Opposites? Ethics, Judges and Minimally Conscious Patients” was the talked given by Richard Huxtable, Professor of Medical Ethics and Law, University of Bristol, at the annual Swan Lecture tonight. Here is the abstract:
This presentation reports on research undertaken by Professor Huxtable and Dr Giles Birchley as part of the Wellcome Trust-funded project ‘Balancing Best Interests in Healthcare, Ethics and Law’ (BABEL). The project focuses on the best interests standard, which underpins many decisions made for or with patients who lack capacity. The presentation explores legal rulings about whether it is in the best interests of patients with prolonged disorders of consciousness to (continue to) receive life-prolonging treatment. The courts have long adjudicated on cases concerning clinically-assisted nutrition and hydration for patients in the vegetative state, and they are now increasingly encountering patients in the minimally conscious state. The latter cases are the main focus of this presentation, which will specifically consider the ethical concepts, principles and approaches that feature in the judges’ decisions. We will show how the rulings encompass diverse ethical values – some of which might be expected, but some perhaps less so. We close by asking whether this is a bad thing, as it indicates inconsistency, or a good thing, as it demonstrates an openness to pluralism.
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