Woman has right to starve herself

2010-03-24 09:55

Wellington – A 60-year-old woman was reported on Wednesday to be starving herself to death in a Wellington hospital and the Medical Association said it was not a doctor's job to stop her.

Margaret Page, who suffered a cerebral haemorrhage 20 years ago, said she no longer wants to live and stopped eating 11 days ago, according to news reports.

Three psychiatric assessments found her capable of making her own decisions and the St John of God hospital where she has lived for four years is respecting her decision as her right.

The Medical Association's ethics committee chairperson Tricia Briscoe was reported on the New Zealand Herald newspaper's website as saying the woman's actions were beyond doctors' responsibilities.

"If the patient has all her marbles, then they have the right to choose what they wish to do in terms of treatment," she said.

Food and water did not even count as treatment and was outside the realm of a doctor's medical conduct, Briscoe said. A doctor was there to alleviate a patient's suffering, not to ward off death.

Husband urged she be forcibly fed

The woman's case came to light when her husband, Barry Page, who has been separated from her for 12 years, went public to urge that she be forcibly fed to save her life.

He cited Section 41 of the Crimes Act which says anyone would be justified in using reasonable force to prevent a suicide.

But a specialist in mental health law, John Dawson, a professor at Otago University, told Radio New Zealand that section was related to emergencies, such as stopping someone about to jump from a building.

"Mrs Page isn't that kind of case," he said. "It's not an emergency."

He said the Bill of Rights recognised a person's right to refuse medical treatment. "It's not illegal or criminal to commit suicide."

Hospital chief executive Ralph La Salle said Page had been assessed as capable of making her own decisions and staff asked her everyday if she wanted to eat.

He said she had a right to refuse treatment and had clearly indicated that she no longer wanted to live.