They’ve sentenced Dad to death: Family’s fury after hospital wins legal battle to let grandfather, 69, die if illness deteriorates
Last night, as she has done every night for the past eight months, May James visited her husband in hospital and asked him how he was.
Despite the fact he breathes via a ventilator and, since undergoing a tracheotomy (the surgical opening of an airway in the neck), can speak only in a whisper or mouth the words, his response was typically cheery. ‘Smashing,’ he said. Poignant enough, you may think.
But recently David’s determined positivity has taken on a particularly heartbreaking resonance, given that his family — May, his wife of 50 years, and their children Julie, 48, David, 45, and Paul, 37 — believe he may have just days to live.
For three days before Christmas, the hospital trust treating the retired musician won a landmark legal case that ruled they could withhold treatment if his condition deteriorates.
His family, who have fought the hospital in the courts every step of the way, believe David has been handed a barbaric death sentence. ‘It’s legalised murder,’ says Julie, a civil servant.
‘It’s heartbreaking for us after everything we’ve been through and we feel bullied. ‘We don’t trust the hospital at all now,’ she adds. ‘But we’re going to keep fighting and we won’t let them win.’
Their problems began in May, when David James walked into his local hospital with nothing more than suspected constipation.
Within three weeks, he was on a ventilator with hospital-acquired pneumonia and sepsis (blood poisoning), which ultimately required a tracheotomy to enable the ventilator to help him breathe.
In the summer, the hospital trust — which cannot be named for legal reasons — launched a rare legal action seeking permission to withdraw potentially life-saving treatment from the 68-year-old grandfather, arguing that the suffering it would cause would outweigh the tiny chance of recovery.
It is one of the few times that a hospital has taken a family to court: but in this instance they perhaps reckoned without the passion of the James clan. Appalled by the hospital’s attitude, they launched a fightback, gathering evidence showing that David still enjoyed his life.
In emotional testimony in court, they painted a moving portrait of a loving husband and father who enjoys the company of his grandchildren, likes listening to music and even jokes with visiting friends. This man, they said, is not ready to die — and they were not ready to let him go.
Their crusade appeared to end in victory when a judge rejected the hospital trust’s application, ruling that it had undervalued the limited quality of life David could still enjoy.
The judgment seemed to mark not just a personal victory for the James family but also one with wider significance. In future, hospitals would be forced to pay greater attention to the wishes of families who want efforts to save seriously ill loved ones to continue, even against medical advice.
Not any more. Just before Christmas, the hospital trust went back to court to appeal against the decision — and this time it won. Appeal Court judges backed the doctors, ruling that treatment could be withheld if David deteriorated.
It was, Lord Justice Ward said, a ‘sad and harsh’ decision, and one that he and his colleagues had agonised over.
But he added: ‘We’re quite satisfied that this is a very sad case indeed — where if it’s necessary, and in the clinical judgment of the hospital it’s no longer in the interests of [David James] to engage in this difficult treatment, then the hospital are permitted to refrain from administering it.’
Adding that he was ‘hugely impressed’ with the professionalism of the hospital staff involved in the case, he spoke of his hope that they and the James family should work together towards David’s best interests.
Not surprisingly, the family are devastated, having gone from hope to despair in the space of a few weeks. ‘As far as I’m concerned, the hospital feel David has overstayed his welcome,’ says May, with tears in her eyes. ‘To them, he is a patient; but to me and his children, he is still a loving husband and father, and while he is enjoying his life who are they to say that it should end?
‘We all know he’ll never be the man he was when he walked into that hospital. But he’s still David. ‘If he was in pain, unhappy or wasn’t responding and was unconscious, we would feel differently. But how can we give our consent to a hospital withdrawing potentially life-saving treatment to a man who was sitting in bed reading a newspaper just the other week, and who delights in seeing his family and friends?’
The family have, at least, been reassured by the trust’s medical director there will not be any immediate change to David’s treatment.
Nonetheless, the latest ruling further illustrates the furore surrounding the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP) — the controversial palliative care system that some relatives have argued is a way for medical staff to kill off the terminally ill and the old.
While the hospital in this case vehemently denied invoking it — a denial accepted in court — the family remain adamant in their belief that David was secretly placed on the Pathway. It is another reason, Julie says, that they feel so passionately.
‘When I stood in the witness box in court, I wasn’t just speaking up for Dad, but for all the other families around the country going through a similar trauma,’ says Julie. ‘We said no to what the hospital wanted, but other families feel pressurised into saying yes.’
The family’s bewilderment is understandable, for theirs is an ordinary family that has found itself in extraordinary circumstances. Since David underwent the tracheotomy, his family have been told countless times he has just hours to live, only for him to rally.
Bafflingly, the hospital doctors are at a loss to explain exactly what is wrong with him. ‘We never really understood what happened to him, and we still don’t,’ says May.
‘This is one of the terrible things. Aside from the pneumonia, we’ve never really had a diagnosis. All we know is that from the moment he went into hospital, he went catastrophically downhill.’
[Easy: Because he was secretly placed on the Liverpool pathway. It kills rapidly]
Miliband set for policy clash with his own MPs: Labour leader plans to woo middle Britain with tougher stance on immigration
Labour MPs remain firmly opposed to curbs on immigration and red tape, a survey reveals today – as Ed Miliband pledges to unveil a string of policies to woo middle Britain.
In his New Year’s message the Labour leader says the party will finally begin setting out its policies for the next election, with a focus on rebuilding the economy and helping struggling families.
Mr Miliband insists he has learned ‘hard truths’ about what Labour ‘got wrong’ on issues like immigration in the past.
In recent weeks Mr Miliband has flirted with taking a tougher stance on immigration without spelling out how he would limit the number of migrants coming to the UK.
But a new Ipsos/Mori survey suggests that his own MPs remain opposed to a crackdown on immigration.
Some 49 per cent of Labour MPs surveyed said that placing any restriction on immigration would harm the competitiveness of Britain’s economy. Just 22 per cent said immigration controls would not be damaging.
By contrast, 82 per cent of Conservative MPs said that immigration restrictions would not harm the economy.
In his New Year message Mr Miliband also pledges to bring forward new proposals to kickstart the economy, including plans to help ‘small businesses struggling against the odds’.
But the Ipsos/Mori survey reveals that Labour MPs remain deeply opposed to any effort to slash red tape, which is routinely cited as a major problem for small business. Not a single Labour MP agreed that the level of regulation faced by British business was damaging the economy. Almost two thirds (64 per cent) said red tape was not holding back economic growth.
By contrast, 87 per cent of Tory MPs cited red tape as a key factor in holding back Britain’s economy.
Mr Miliband ordered a major policy review in the wake of the 2010 election defeat, saying he would start with a ‘blank sheet of paper’. But so far the review has not produced any major policies.
In a further blow yesterday it emerged that the former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling may quit politics rather than take a Shadow Cabinet job in the run-up to the next election.
Speculation has been mounting at Westminster in recent weeks that Mr Darling could make a dramatic return as Shadow Chancellor as part of a drive to improve Labour’s faltering credibility on the economy. The move would see him replace Ed Balls, whose role in helping Gordon Brown run up the huge budget deficit left by Labour is set to be a key election issue.
Mr Darling, 59, is one of the few figures to emerge from the last Government with his credibility intact after standing up to Mr Brown’s demands for more spending, and helping to shore up the banks.
More “child protection” evil in Britain
The latest unbalanced proposals are more likely to hurt rather than help children. Both innocent and guilty parents will now avoid taking hurt children to hospital for fear of legal attack and losing their children
Many parents feel their blood freeze at the memory of something awful happening to their children.
And reading this week about the Government’s plan to introduce a register of children treated in accident and emergency departments evoked one such chilling recollection for my wife and me — and its deeply worrying aftermath. One evening 14 years ago, in the winter of 1998, I was at home reading when I heard my wife call out from upstairs, where she was getting the children to bed.
Our elder son was four, and the younger, Johnnie, 18 months. I went upstairs and found Johnnie standing in his cot, beaming and bouncing on his mattress while holding on to the bars. He had only just learned to walk and was still unsteady on his feet. My wife asked me to feel the left side of his head. It was sponge-like, though appeared to be giving him no pain or discomfort.
We agreed that she must at once take him to hospital, which was, luckily, less than ten minutes’ drive away: this was just after 7.30pm. I stayed at home with our elder son and put him to bed.
I knew the rule at casualty departments was that small children jumped the queue, so I wasn’t expecting to have to wait long before hearing how things were. It was a nerve-wracking time and, as the hours passed, I became more and more concerned.
It never occurred to me that Johnnie had a physical injury. I feared he had some sort of brain disease, and was deeply worried.
It was nearly 1am when my wife rang. Johnnie was going to be kept in for observation overnight — and she was staying with him — but would be released the next day.
We were horrified to hear he had a three-and-a-half-inch hairline fracture of the skull, running from about the middle of the back of his head round over his left ear almost to his temple. And my wife, completely innocent, found herself under suspicion.
Once the nature of Johnnie’s injury had been established, the tone of the medical staff changed dramatically.
She was regarded as, if not the perpetrator of the injury, then an accomplice to whoever was. She was kept at a distance from the child, except when asked to undress him completely — so doctors could examine him for wider signs of abuse — of which, of course, there were none.
To this day she remembers the coldness of the doctor and medical staff towards her, as if a decision had already been made about her guilt in the matter. Alarmingly for her, they would at first tell her nothing about Johnnie’s condition.
Only when she became distressed and insistent and asked them straight out ‘Is he going to die?’ did they eventually admit that he wasn’t. Neither was she informed about the procedures in place to alert social services.
Sure enough, the next thing she knew, social workers had been alerted. Having obviously debriefed the hospital medical staff about Johnnie’s condition and the nature of his mother, they set a condition for his being allowed home with his parents: the family’s GP had to agree that, in his opinion, we were not a pair of child beaters. That was the final indignity.
My wife came home to get an overnight bag and, in a shared state of shock, we discussed this revolting inference the medical staff had drawn about Johnnie’s injury. We also discussed how it might have happened.
That morning, while my wife had been out, Johnnie had been left with my mother at her house. She was then in her early 70s and, like my wife, as far from being one of nature’s Myra Hindleys as it is possible to imagine.
Johnnie, as I have said, was only just becoming independently mobile — like many second children, he had relied on his older sibling to fetch and carry for him.
But suddenly he had acquired the adventurous spirit, and was wandering, climbing and tumbling all over the place.
My mother had various pieces of heavy furniture that he could have banged his head on — but why had she not heard him cry out?
A doctor answered this: if a child is absorbed in some activity when sustaining such a knock, it can pass almost unnoticed — and Johnnie was always busy with something, whether a toy, a picture book or (as we suspected in this case) watching the Teletubbies.
This seemed to be the most likely explanation, but for all that it was not until our GP had been found and questioned — presumably by social services — the next day, that we were allowed to bring Johnnie home. Two weeks later he was right as rain.
I am, I repeat, very keen for people who do abuse their children to be detected swiftly, and to face the full force of the law when and if they are convicted. But how would we, as the parents of young children, have reacted if the proposed register had been in place when our boys were small?
Happily, we never had to take Johnnie to A&E again. But what if we had?
What if, being an adventurous sort of lad, he had come off his bike and hit his head again, or fallen off the swing we put up for him in the garden, or tumbled out of one of our many trees or from his climbing frame?
We are always being told, quite rightly, that the development of children is being stunted by their being over-protected, and by their not being allowed to take risks.
But I must admit I would have brought Johnnie up differently if I had been told his name had been placed on a register, and that another visit by him to any other A&E would result in suspicions being raised about his mother and me. For those suspicions would, quite possibly, lead to us being questioning by the police or social workers.
Anything that might possibly have led to him ending up in A&E would have been contemplated only very, very reluctantly.
Of course, if a child is hurt you take him to A&E. But how many parents would hesitate, after a second innocent and genuine accident, if suddenly they were going to come to the attention of the social services?
The Government may mean well in trying to prevent child abuse by stopping ‘devious’ parents taking abused children to several different A&E departments to avoid alerting the authorities.
However, this treats a symptom of the cancer of abuse rather than its cause — and carries with it a danger of incriminating parents who are loving and decent towards their children.
I can’t help feeling this proposal is a sticking-plaster for the inadequacy of so many of our social services departments. Ideally, they would spot problem families long before a second or third visit to A&E — and their intelligence gathering should start at antenatal classes.
The new register is supposed to make the jobs of social workers easier. However, it is just as likely to make ruthless child abusers forget A&E altogether, so serious injuries go untreated, with possibly terrible consequences.
And it will cause decent families to live in dread of a visit to A&E and — as my wife felt she was when Johnnie was hurt — to be treated as guilty until proven innocent.
The Government has a role in protecting our children from cruelty. But this register will, in my view, harm decent families — fuelling the distrust and loathing that law-abiding Britons feel towards an ever-more intrusive and unaccountable state, while the guilty go on getting away with their crimes.
The RSPCA has lost the plot
By Ruth Dudley Edwards
Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Environment, regrets that there’s no chance of repealing the hunting ban in this parliament. So do I, although nothing would persuade me to hunt, and, like him, I’m an animal-lover.
As I child, I hated hunting and hunters. As a young woman, I agreed with my fiancé that we would become rich in order to buy up key pieces of land to wreck hunts. (We became neither rich nor stayed married.) Yet as an adult, I set one of my crime novels in the hunting world (Ten Lords A-Leaping) and had my protagonists passionately opposing a ban.
What happened? I grew up, I read the arguments, I became better informed about rural life and I realised that most of those excited about banning fox-hunting were bigots, class warriors or too sentimental to look properly at the evidence. And the evidence was that the fox population has to be controlled, that on balance, shooting them is less humane than hunting, and that those involved in hunting tend to be keen conservationists.
In A Journey, Tony Blair recalls that having committed himself to banning hunting, he began, too late, to educate himself about it. “The more I learned, the more uneasy I became. I started to realise this wasn’t a small clique of weirdo inbreeds delighting in cruelty, but a tradition, embedded by history and profound community and social liens, that was integral to a way of life.” Unfortunately, by then it was too late and all he could hope was that the flawed legislation would not be enthusiastically policed.
In fact on the whole the cops have been reasonably sensible, but the zealots are again massing and they don’t seem much interested in the issue of cruelty. For the RSPCA to waste £326,000 on bringing a private prosecution against members of the Heythrop Hunt in Oxfordshire is an obscenity and I hope the Charity Commission penalises them for breaching their ‘duty of prudence’.
Gavin Grant, the RSPCA Chief Executive, seems to have it in for country people. He’s now threatening to name and shame those involved in legal badger-culling. And the League Against Cruel Sports has spent £1,000,000 spying on Boxing Day hunts.
Over the past decade, under an ex-MP, the Lib Dem Jackie Ballard, and now Grant, the RSPCA seems to have forgotten that its job is to work in the interests of the greatest happiness of the greatest number of animals. I’d recommend anyone anxious to help animals to donate to Compassion in World Farming or Blue Cross or other charities focused on combating cruelty rather than to those obsessed with the fate of a few furry vermin
Become a lawyer with no degree, British pupils told
School leavers will be encouraged to skip university and train for highly-paid jobs as lawyers, bankers and accountants in a new wave of “professional” apprenticeships, a minister discloses today.
Matthew Hancock, the skills minister, will call for more young people to go straight from A-levels into traditional City professions that have been “dominated” by graduates.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hancock says “university is not for everyone”. High quality apprenticeships should be as “prestigious” as a degree.
An increasing number of school leavers are choosing to work rather than spend three years at university, as students and parents avoid taking on debts of as much as £60,000 to cover fees and living costs.
The number of 18-year-olds heading to university fell by 57,000 this autumn. This trend is likely to continue as apprenticeships become a cheaper alternative to a degree.
In his article, Mr Hancock says everyone, not just graduates, should have the chance to get “valuable jobs” in law, financial services and advanced engineering.
He says that for too long there has been an “artificial and counterproductive division between practical and academic learning”.
“We are offering apprenticeships instead of university, as a route into the professions, including insurance, accounting and law,” he says.
“University is not for everyone. There is no reason why you can’t reach exactly the same qualifications, without the degree, starting on-the-job training in an apprenticeship from day one.”
Mr Hancock says there are on-the-job schemes already that give school leavers the equivalent of one year at university or “foundation” degree level.
People leaving school at 18 can start accountancy or legal executive training. Ministers now want to see apprenticeships at top firms that “truly match” studying for full or postgraduate degrees.
Mr Hancock says the Government is in talks with the BPP Law School over an apprenticeship that will lead to a qualification as a solicitor.
He says PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the “big four” professional services firms, is developing a master’s-level apprenticeship for a qualification in audit, accountancy or tax. The minister urges “more employers to step up to take advantage of the opportunity” of school leavers who want to start learning and earning rather than go to university.
His comments come after the Commons business committee urged ministers to create more high quality apprenticeships that lead to better careers.
Last month, an official review by Doug Richard, an entrepreneur, recommended that apprenticeships should be seen as equal to degrees.
The businessman, who appeared on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den programme, said standards of apprenticeships should be raised to stop them being regarded as “second class” in relation to university.
Other experts warned that students should not forget about the value of university when choosing their future path.
Rob Wilson, an MP on the Fair Access to University Group, said he welcomed “high quality apprenticeships”. But he said: “Potential students should not forget the excellent value universities bring in terms of additional career earnings and the more rounded education.”
Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said young people should not be encouraged to take decisions about their education based on cost.
Labour claims that the drive to recruit apprentices has “stalled”.
Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, says too many apprenticeships are being given to adults, rather than school leavers.
Statins have helped slash British heart attack deaths, “Experts say”
This is just faith. There is no way of separating out statin effects from other effects mentioned below. Wider use of aspirin and other clotbusting drugs could be major factors, for instance
Statins have played a significant role in slashing the number of deaths from heart attacks by half. The ‘wonderdrug’ can reduce cholesterol and protect against a host of chronic illnesses.
Experts have said the drug has contributed to the saving of millions of lives over the past ten years.
Between 2002 and 2010 the death rate in men fell dramatically from 78.7 per 100,000 to 39.2, figures show. In comparison, the death rate among women fell from 37.3 to 17.7, according to the British Heart Foundation.
Professor Peter Weissburg, medical director of the foundation, told the Daily Express: ‘Around 50 per cent fewer people are having heart attacks in the first place and statins play a big part on primary and secondary intervention. ‘Until statins came along we didn’t have drugs that were effective and safe.’
Every day eight million people in the UK take various statins, which cost as little as 40p a day.
Simvastatin is the most frequently prescribed one; last year GPs gave out almost three million prescriptions for it in England alone.
Their widespread use, combined with healthier lifestyles, has led to far fewer people having heart attacks.
Mr Weissburg added: ‘The fall in the number of deaths from heart attacks has actually been dropping for the past 20 years and some of that is to do with lifestyle’.
Mr Weissburg said fewer people smoking, better control of blood pressure and better treatment for those who have suffered a heart attack, as well as statins, have contributed to the fall.
The success of statins in combating fatal heart attacks has led to some doctors calling for everyone over 50 to be prescribed the pills.
They protect against heart attacks, heart disease and strokes, as well as some cancers.
In November it was reported that thousands of people taking a common statin were to have their dose reduced over fears of side effects.
Side effects can include insomnia, bowel problems, headaches and loss of sensation or pain in the hands and feet.
The medicines regulator warned that patients taking one particular type – simvastatin – at the same time as other drugs used to reduce high blood pressure were likely to suffer more muscle aches and pains.
5,000 people investigated by British police for something they said on Facebook or Twitter as ‘social network crime’ soars 800%
Reports of crimes involving Facebook and Twitter – such as posting abusive messages, grooming and complaints of stalking – have increased eight-fold in four years.
The figures show 653 people were charged for social networking crime in 2011 alone.
Police forces said there has been a wide variety of offences via the social media platforms, with harassment and menacing messages among the most common.
Civil liberties campaigners said the statistics demonstrate how some police forces had ‘lost all proportion’ in dealing with social media complaints.
They added that the figures reveal how poorly some police forces have dealt with complaints about comments made online.
Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘These figures show just how badly some police forces had lost all proportion when dealing with social media.
‘So many arrests was clearly undermining freedom of speech and while the new guidance should reduce the problem, hundreds of people now have criminal records for the rest of their lives when it is far from clear they should do.
‘The law around speech crimes is still in need of a total overhaul as the legislation that led to some of the more absurd prosecutions remains in place.’
Chief Constable Andy Trotter, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on communications, said forces must prioritise crimes which cause genuine harm, rather than attempting to curb freedom of expression.