Ethics of Euthanasia

This week I was shocked to read a BBC news article about the euthanasia of a 44 year old Belgian transsexual, who was so unhappy with his sex change that he wanted to die. Two doctors made the necessary decisions that he was within his rights to choose euthanasia, saying: ‘Patients must be capable of deciding for themselves. They must be conscious and have to give a “voluntary, considered and repeated” request to die.’

Nathan Verhelst was legally killed on September 30th. I wonder if he might have felt differently in a few months, if he had had more counselling and psychological help.

One of the things I found particularly shocking about this case was that it didn’t make the headlines. In Belgium, euthanasia is not very controversial and MPs there are even now deciding whether to lower the age limit to make euthanasia available to under-eighteens. You can read more about that in The Independent news article here.

I believe that this could be the start of a very slippery slope. Can a child make the decision whether it is better for them to live or die? Do the child’s parents have the right to decide to kill their child, even if it is for humane reasons?

It is questions like these which make me glad that euthanasia is illegal in this country. I feel especially strongly about it, having visited the death camps at Auschwitz, where euthanasia was taken to horrifying extremes.

Since the Harold Shipman case, there are now much better regulations in place to ensure that doctors can’t kill their patients, and doctors have to be revalidated every 5 years to ensure they are doing the best for their patients.

As a doctor, I would always want to do the best for my patients without causing them harm. However, I know that I shall have to make some difficult ethical decisions, such as whether or not to withdraw treatment for a terminally ill patient (Extraordinary medical care), or whether to give a drug to relieve pain, knowing that it might cause the patient to die sooner (the Doctrine of Double Effect).

You can find out more on this BBC ethics website which sets out the arguments for and against euthanasia and assisted suicide really clearly.

 

Kidney checks could save lives

I was really interested in the news here  and here about kidney checks saving around 12,000 lives a year, as I just spent a week at Southampton and Portsmouth hospitals shadowing consultant nephrologist, Kirsty Armstrong. Lydia Spilner’s life could have been saved if her acute kidney injury (AKI) had been prevented through the provision of basic clinical care, such as hydration. You can read more about her case here.

image from http://www.channel4.com/media/images/Channel4/c4-news/2013/Aug/28/28_kidney_g_w_SML.jpg

Malarial mosquitoes more attracted to smell of humans

A study published a few days ago has found that malaria-carrying mosquitoes are more likely to bite humans than mosquitoes which don’t carry the malaria parasite, because they are attracted by our smell.

It is already known that female anopheles mosquitoes are attracted to the chemicals in human body odour, to help them find the blood they need to grow their eggs; but, if they are carrying the malaria parasite, the chance that they will bite humans increases.

James Logan, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and his team of scientists used nylon tights, filled with foot odours, to attract both malarial mosquitoes and ordinary uninfected mosquitoes. They found that the malaria-carrying mosquitoes were three times as likely to try to bite as the uninfected ones. Logan believes that it is the parasite which is changing the way the mosquito behaves, to try to complete its life cycle, which can be deadly for humans.

According to the New Scientist, ‘understanding the mechanisms used by the parasite to change mosquito behaviour could help efforts to predict the spread of the disease. It could also lead to new ways to stop it, such as new types of insect traps.’

James Logan said, ‘We could develop a lure that would target malaria-infected mosquitoes. If that’s possible, we’ll be targeting the most dangerous mosquitoes in the world.’

I think it’s good news that more people are trying to stop malaria spreading, in many different ways. It’s going to take more than one solution to stop this disease.

If you are interested, you can watch an interesting video about it on the BBC News here.