Family blames doctors for death of woman, 91, in medical ethics dispute

An elderly woman, whose feeding tube was withdrawn by doctors against the wishes of her family, died in hospital yesterday.

Olive Nockels, 91, became the focus of a legal battle about treating the elderly after being admitted to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital more than two weeks ago. She was unconscious and doctors suspected she had suffered a stroke after an operation to pin a broken hip.

They advised her relatives last week that there was no chance of recovery. They said using drips and tubes to feed and hydrate her would unnecessarily prolong her suffering and the tubes were withdrawn on Friday 3 October.

But Mrs Nockels' family objected and obtained an interim court order on Monday compelling the doctors to restart feeding and hydration until a full hearing could be held. Ivy West, 60, Mrs Nockels' daughter, said: "We think she would still be here now if they had not taken her drip away for three days before they were forced to put it back."

The hospital said Mrs Nockels, who suffered from dementia, was desperately ill and had would not recover from the stroke. Sources said it was likely that a post-mortem examination would be done and that an inquest would be held.

The British Medical Association says the "active and intentional" termination of a patient's life is illegal but adds that medical treatment, including artificial feeding and hydration by tube, can be withdrawn when it is "futile, when it would not be in the patient's best interest ... or when the patient has refused further treatment".

Michael Wilks, chairman of the BMA ethics committee, said: "If doctors decide a treatment is not providing benefit, it is unethical to continue to provide it. The commonest reason for a breakdown between a health team and relatives is a failure of communication."

¿ An 18-year-old woman suffering from variant CJD is to be given pioneering treatment involving pentosan polysulphate. Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the High Court Family Division, gave her approval after hearing that Jonathan Simms, the first vCJD patient to receive the therapy, appeared to have benefited.

Comments