Misrepresentations about palliative options and prognosis in motor neurone disease: some legal considerations

J Eval Clin Pract. 2005 Feb;11(1):21-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2753.2004.00487.x.


If euthanasia were legalized, clinicians would be under a duty to explain to patients requesting euthanasia what the prognosis and palliative options were. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some patients suffering from motor neurone disease may request euthanasia because of a fear of choking to death. The literature indicates that with competent palliative care this is unlikely to occur. It is assumed, for the purposes of argument, that responsible clinicians would accordingly reassure patients that such a fear was unwarranted, and that such a reassurance would cause patients for whom choking was the main concern either to withdraw a request for euthanasia or not to make it in the first place. The legal consequences of both negligent and deliberate failure to represent the true prognostic and palliative situation are discussed. In the case of a deliberate failure, with the intention to induce the patient to consent to euthanasia, it is suggested that a verdict of murder would be ethically right. It is argued that such a failure is best regarded as an omission. The English law currently does not countenance the possibility of murder by omission. It is suggested that the distinction between acts and omissions, while sometimes convenient, can sometimes produce injustice, and that the distinction should not be allowed to prevent conviction for murder where this is clearly appropriate.

MeSH terms

  • Airway Obstruction / psychology
  • Ethics, Clinical
  • Euthanasia, Active / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Euthanasia, Active / psychology*
  • Fear / psychology
  • Humans
  • Motor Neuron Disease / diagnosis*
  • Motor Neuron Disease / psychology*
  • Palliative Care*
  • Prognosis
  • Truth Disclosure / ethics