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York conference to debate ethics of patient treatment

Posted on 24 April 2014

A panel of experts will gather at a conference at the University of York to examine the ethics of withdrawing treatment from vegetative and minimally conscious patients.

Hosted by the University’s Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders, and supported by the Wellcome Trust, the conference of 9 May 2014 will feature leading scholars, medical and legal experts. They will discuss the ethical, clinical, philosophical, economic and sociological perspectives of withdrawing treatment.

Coming at the start of ‘Dying Awareness Week’ it will set the scene for Before I Die: A Festival for the Living About Dying which will be hosted by the University of York from 11-17 May.

Organised jointly by the York Chronic Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre (CDoC) and the Court of Protection Practitioners’ Association (COPPA), the event will start with a keynote speech from Mr Justice (Sir Jonathan) Baker, of the High Court Family Division.

Mr Justice Baker has a wealth of experience of high-profile cases in the Court of Protection.  He will reflect on his landmark judgement in the first case of its kind to request withdrawal relating to a patient diagnosed as ‘minimally conscious’ (W v. M and Ors 2011).

This ground-breaking decision, in which he refused the family’s application to withdraw life support, was the first in which a judge has been asked to decide whether to end life-supporting treatment for someone who is not in a ‘permanent vegetative state’, but ‘minimally conscious’. The case received wide media attention and coverage in The Journal of Medical Ethics.

Speakers at the conference also include Professor Celia Kitzinger, Director of the CDoC Research Centre, who teaches in the Sociology Department, University of York, Professor Derick Wade, Consultant in Neurological Rehabilitation at the Oxford Centre of Enablement, Dr Stephen Holland from the Philosophy Department, University of York, and Professor Simon Halliday from the Law School, University of York.

Professor Kitzinger said: “It is accepted medical practice to withdraw life-prolonging treatments – including tube feeding - from people near the end of life when these treatments are futile or burdensome.  The case of patients in long-term ‘comas’ poses unique challenges to this practice and engages us all in important questions about what we value about life, and what we mean by a ‘good death’.”

The conference, which is still open for registration to attend, will take place at The Lakehouse, Ron Cooke Hub, Heslington East Campus on Friday 9 May, 10am-5pm.


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