Letter: Putting a price on human life

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Sir: You report that some hospitals are taking calculated decisions to withhold potentially life-saving drugs to older people with heart disease (7 December). According to Professor Grimley Evans, the author of a report on Britain's 50-74 age group, the treatment is refused as it is not cost-effective.

If an individual or corporate body kills by recklessness this is manslaughter. It is even manslaughter when, in a medical context, those engaged in trying to improve or prolong life make terrible mistakes: witness the conviction of the two doctors for killing a man in police custody at Grimsby police station (5 December).

To withhold available treatment from patients, knowing that this will expose them to an obvious and serious risk of death, is arguably reckless. Hospitals and Trusts can, however, deflect any possible prosecution by using economic considerations as excusatory arguments. This reasoning permits human sacrifices to result from so-

called hard economic realities.

Such economic reasoning has not found favour in other areas. If you are caught with a bald tyre (which indirectly threatens life) or no MOT certificate it is not a legal defence to claim you could not afford a new tyre or car repairs.

Yours faithfully,


Law School

Staffordshire University


7 December