Severely sick and disabled newborns in National Health Service (NHS) hospitals in Northwestern England are being sent home or to hospices to die of starvation or dehydration, the Daily Mail reports
The babies are being assigned to the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) for end-of-life care, meant for terminally-ill adults and the elderly. The system includes removal of food and fluid tubes, but it takes up to 10 days on average for the babies to die. Permission from parents is required to put their children on the death path.
Ministers have launched an inquiry that will look at whether doctors’ decisions to commit babies to the LCP were influenced by monetary payments to hospitals for reaching pathway targets.
An anonymous physician, who admitted starving and dehydrating 10 babies to death in one hospital’s neonatal unit, described the gory details of the process in the British Medical Journal.
“I know, as they [parents] cannot, the unique horror of witnessing a child become smaller and shrunken, as the only route out of a life that has become excruciating to the patient or to the parents who love their baby,” the doctor wrote. “I reflect on how sanitized this experience seems within the literature about making this decision.”
But the reality is anything but sanitized, the doctor said. “Survival is often much longer than most physicians think . . . Parents and care teams are unprepared for the sometimes severe changes that they will witness in the child’s physical appearance as severe dehydration ensues.”
Critics of the practice say it’s impossible to know when a patient will die, so they see LCP as a form of euthanasia, designed to empty hospital beds and save the NHS money.
A hospice pediatric nurse, Bernadette Lloyd, wrote to the Department of Health, railing against the death pathways.
'‘I have seen children die in terrible thirst because fluids are withdrawn from them until they die,” she said, according to the Daily Mail. “I witnessed a 14-year-old boy with cancer die with his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth when doctors refused to give him liquids by tube. His death was agonizing for him and for us nurses to watch.”
Parents feel under pressure to send their child along the LCP, as doctors tell them their child has only a few days to survive. But figuring out how long the toddlers will live is guess work, Lloyd said. “I have seen a reasonable number of children recover after being taken off the pathway.”
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