INTRODUCTION TO MEDICAL LAW
Medical law touches the lives of everyone and raises fundamental questions about life, death and many of the things which happen in between those two events in people’s lives. The law attempts to deal with a wide range of problems, such as what to do with patients who refuse treatment or patients who are unable to consent to treatment; how to respond to the increasing number of claims for medical negligence; and what rights children have in respect of treatment. There are many contemporary issues with which the law has to grapple. Should women have an automatic right to abortion? Should the 24 week limit on social abortions be reviewed, as foetuses of this age can now be kept alive? When may organs be removed from dead patients? Should the practice of euthanasia be made legal in the light of developments in Holland? The ethical and legal dilemmas confront us on an almost daily basis. Examples include: the discovery of the practice of removing organs from dead children at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool and at Bristol Royal Infirmary; in 2000 the case of the conjoined twins, Jodie and Mary; in 2002 the struggle and ultimate failure of Diane Pretty, paralysed by motor neuron disease, to obtain permission for her husband to help her to die; Natalie Evans who, in June 2004, lost her appeal to use her frozen embryos to have a baby; and in January 2005 when Brian Blackburn, who made a suicide pact with his wife who was dying of cancer and killed her, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, he was given a suspended sentence of nine months’ imprisonment.