Church leaders caution against pulling plug on terminal patients at QEH
Don’t even consider it!
That was the reaction of religious leader and Government Senator Dr David Durant to a suggestion by chief executive officer of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Dr Dexter James that authorities may have to consider discontinuing treatment for some terminally ill patients.
Delivering a lecture yesterday on the topic Is Free Health Care Sustainable? the hospital administrator said it was time to have a serious conversation on the issue, as it could be one way of saving on escalating health care costs.
But Reverend Durant, who heads Restoration Ministries, contended that every family should have the right to see their relative pass away with dignity, and should not have to be taken off life support.
“I think that’s the best the nation can do for someone who lived their life in this island and may [get] terminally ill. Perhaps, they can be healed as well because with God, all things are possible if you only believe. So, at some time that person can be healed and completely restored and taking them off life support is going to negate that possibility from happening,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“I believe that people should, at least, be given that respect and that compassion to leave this earth with dignity rather than being forced by reason of cost. Money is spent elsewhere doing all sorts of things.”
While Anglican Bishop Dr John Holder did not rule out the possibility, he said Barbados should proceed on this issue with caution.
He questioned who would make the determination that measures used to keep a person alive should be stopped.
“If we approach it primarily from the perspective that the person may die anyway, and we are simply prolonging the case knowing that the person is going to die, that is an approach I think that would raise a number of issues because if we hold on to the position that the person should be given care as long as is humanly possible, the question will always arise ‘at what point should we stop that care’?” he said.
Bishop Holder said there was no easy answer to the challenge and it required far more discussion.
“My own position is that there will have to be a discussion and agreement between the medical people and the family because I think that the family should have a say in the process of discontinuing the treatment that would mean the person would die,” he added.
Head of the Barbados Christian Council Monsignor Vincent Blackett was unable to comment as he said he was in the process of preparing to leave the island.
The QEH’s chief administrator came in for some criticism for his suggestion on social media.
James told those gathered for yesterday’s lecture at the Grande Salle of the Central Bank that sooner or later, consideration would have to be given to taking brain-dead patients off life support, as one means of reducing spiraling health care costs that were likely to make the provision of services unsustainable.
“That is an ethical dilemma that we have to address if we are really serious about fixing some of these systemic problems in the system,” he said, noting that there were cases where the QEH kept patients on life support even though all indicators pointed to them being brain-dead.
Posting on Barbados TODAY’s Facebook page, some readers agreed that it was an ethical dilemma and suggested that the decision had to involve family members.
“These are tough decisions that have no wrong or right answers. I suppose inevitably the answer will come down to one of economics,” Santini More wrote.
Tara Inniss-Gibbs contended that “lawmakers should consider how there could be provisions for advanced directives or living wills so that families can make these decisions with the advanced guidance of their loved ones”.
However, there were others who opposed any such discussion or move.
“Only God Almighty has to right to decide when it’s time for someone to die; no one else!” Deighton Mottley said.
David Elcock added: “Seems as though it’s not futility of care that is making this decision but rather one of economics. It is bad when we equate people’s’ lives to money and people lose. How did we get here?”
Robert Holloway questioned whether James had the figures “to prove that this low number of patients is causing such a debt to the Government”, while Sharon Woolley asked how a determination would be made on “who gets the chance of living life longer and who doesn’t”.