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"Death by Indifference:" Medically Neglectiing People with Developmental Disabilities to Death in the UK

Posted Jan 11 2009 4:59pm
Regular SHSers will recall the horrific case of Martin Ryan, an adult with Down syndrome who, after a stroke left him unable to talk, was allowed to starve to death over 26 days in a UK hospital. I have done some Googling, and found some more on the story. Martin's and other deaths came to light because of a campaign by MENCAP, an NGO, to bring to light abuses in the medical context against people with developmental disabilities.

There is apparently something of a pattern in this and other appalling deaths of people with developmental disabilities. From the Telegraph coverage:
The six cases were raised by Mencap in a report entitled Death By Indifference. A spokesman for the charity said last night: "These people were completely and unacceptably failed by the treatment they received. " It was a catalogue of disasters and poor treatment of very vulnerable people who deserved so much more.
Still, the coverage, based on what I can see from the USA, seems very muted, particularly given the horrendous nature of Martin's death and the other problems reported. When I Goggled it, there were only nine stories listed. Perhaps it is because these deaths didn't just happen--Martin died in 2005. But think of that! It has been nearly 4 years and nothing has been done about his plight. That is why I suspect there is more at work here.

Let's play a mind game about the same death, but a different patient. Imagine, if you will, that Martin was gay, or a Muslim, or a person of color, and that his starvation seemed part of a pattern of indifference and neglect that had been inflicted on other similarly situated patients: Wouldn't the media have been in a full-fledged feeding frenzy from the moment the news came out demanding that heads roll and cases be prosecuted criminally? Why have we not seen that same kind of intensity with regard to these deaths? Yes, there is going to be a government report, but I am talking about the intensity of the thing.

I suspect it is that people like Martin aren't valued equally by many in society and among journalists. And indeed, given the indifference to the high eugenic abortion rate, the respect in the media for people like Peter Singer who asserts it is okay for parents to kill babies born with Down (can you imagine the reaction if he said the same thing about murdering a baby based on race?), there is a (perhaps unconscious) mindset afoot that people like Martin should never be born.

Here's another horror story from the MENCAP report:
Emma was admitted to hospital for tests – she was upset and in pain. The hospital found her behaviour difficult to manage and sent her home without any help to control her pain. When Emma and her mum went back to the hospital for the results they were told Emma had cancer.

There was a 50:50 chance that she would survive if she was treated, but the doctors decided not to treat her. They said she couldn't consent to treatment. Again Emma was sent home with no way to help with her pain.

A week later Emma wasn't eating or drinking, so her mum took her back to the hospital and tried to make the doctors treat her daughter. Still having to watch her daughter suffer from the cancer, Emma's mum went to the High court to force the doctors to treat her daughter, but by the time the order came through, the cancer had progressed too far. Emma was admitted to a palliative care hospice where she died a month later.
Awful. Just awful. There's another way to spell indifference: B.I.G.O.T.R.Y.

Not being in the UK, perhaps I am missing the outrage that is being expressed there. But based on what I can tell from this side of the Pond, I am not seeing it. I would be interested to hear from UK SHSers about their perceptions of the matter.
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