You might have thought that the implication of something I wrote yesterday about the Paralympic legacy was a bit alarmist. I said, "Nevertheless it is to be hoped that the high-achievers will have dispelled the myth once and for all that disability renders you less of a person, with less dignity and worthy of less respect. This recognition has implications for both ends of life."
Today the news outlets contain a story which suggests that this is already a real matter of life and death. The case is reported of a 51-year old man with Down's Syndrome who had a DNR ("Do Not Resuscitate") notice attached to his hospital notes without his, his family's or his carers' knowledge or consent. It was only discovered when he returned in good health to his care home. The reasons given for not resuscitating the man were: "Down's syndrome, unable to swallow (Peg [percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy] fed), bed bound, learning difficulties". For learning difficulties and Down's Syndrome to be given as reasons not to save someone's life is chilling.
Obviously we don't know Margate hospital's side of the story, as they won't comment on a sub judice case. But on the face of it their treatment of AWA, the patient, and his next of kin was shameful. Sadly it's not an isolated case. The comment of Mark Goldring, chief executive of learning disability charity Mencap, is worth quoting: "We are very disappointed to hear about this case, but unfortunately, we believe that DNR orders are frequently being placed on patients with a learning disability without the knowledge or agreement of families. This is against the law.
"All too often, decisions made by health professionals are based on discriminatory and incorrect assumptions about a patient's quality of life.
"People with a learning disability enjoy meaningful lives like anyone else. Yet... prejudice, ignorance and indifference, as well as failure to abide by disability discrimination laws, still feature in the treatment of many patients with a learning disability.
"Health professionals need to understand their legal duties when treating people with a learning disability, and be held to account when they fail to do so."
Source: BBC Health News