by Giles Fraser
Friday, 3
April 2020

GPs should not play God during Covid

by Giles Fraser
GPs have no right to decide that some lives are less worthwhile than others when no medical issues are at stake

Andrew Cannon is the Chief Executive of Voyage Care, an organisation that supports some 3,500 adults with physical and learning difficulties throughout the country. The people they help look after have a range of conditions: autism, learning difficulties, and brain injuries.

Many of their clients are perfectly healthy, physically. Having autism does not mean you are any less fit than anyone else. Yet despite this, a number of GP’s have contacted Voyage Care teams to say that all — N.B. all — the people that they look after would be subject to a Do Not Resuscitate order, were they to fall ill with the virus. Mr Cannon’s Twitter feed makes chilling reading:

Also today, three services (in Somerset, Derbyshire and East Sussex) where GP’s have contacted the teams to say that they have deemed the people we support should ALL be DNR. No consultation with families, no best interests. Mostly working age adults. We will fight this.
- Andrew Cannon

And fight it we all absolutely should. I do not deny that the medical professionals have very difficult decisions to make when it comes to triaging patients with this terrible virus, and especially in the face of increasingly limited resources. I understand that there is a conversation to be had about whether patients who are less likely to survive should lose out to those who are fundamentally healthy when it comes to hard pressed medical attention and machinery.

But — the merits or otherwise of that argument aside — nothing about having a learning difficulty or autism makes that person any less physically healthy:

Learned today of DNR applied by a hospital for one of the people we support, man in his 50’s, no underlying health conditions and great quality of life. Family not consulted. Can only conclude that ReSPECT form put in place because he has a learning difficulty.
- Andrew Cannon

I read up on ReSPECT – or Recommended Summary Plan for Emergency Care and Treatment. The website makes it absolutely clear that such care plans should be tailored to the needs of the individual — and not issued to whole categories of people. “The ReSPECT process is all about thinking ahead with patients about realistic care options in a truly patient-centred way,” wrote Dr Juliet Spiller, Co-Chair of the ReSPECT Working Group.

I have written this piece as calmly as I can. I am one of those people who gets quieter and calmer the angrier I get. GPs have absolutely no right to decide that some lives are less worthwhile than others when no medical issues are at stake.

I know that our medical professionals are under a lot of pressure right now, but down this route we absolutely must not go.

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