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Doctors: U.K. Hospitals Expediting Deaths To Reduce Hospital Costs

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The U.K.'s "death pathway" may be a little too deadly.

That's the allegation of six doctors in the U.K. who claim that the country has gone too far with a publicly funded program aimed at supporting terminally ill patients. The doctors voiced their protest in a letter to the Telegraph, warning that the Liverpool Care Pathway program is being used to cut costs instead of as simply a more humane mode of care. (h/t The Daily Mail).

The Liverpool Care Pathway "allows medical staff to withhold fluid and drugs in a patient’s final days," according to the Telegraph.

“If you are cynical about it, as I am, you can see it as a cost-cutting measure, if you don’t want your beds to be filled with old people,” Dr. Gillian Craig, a former vice-chairman of the Medical Ethics Alliance who signed the letter, told the Daily Telegraph.

End of life care is indeed costly. Estimates show that about 27 percent of Medicare's annual budget goes to patients's care during their final year of life, USA Today reported in 2006. Last weekend the Wall Street Journal reported that "Medicare patients rack up disproportionate costs in the final year of life."

Advocates of the program, which was developed at a Liverpool hospital but is now widely used throughout the U.K., claim that it is a humane way to treat dying patients. Detractors, who often refer to it as the “death pathway,” point to the fact the number of hospital deaths that implemented such end-of-life care measures doubled in the last two years, according to The Daily Mail.

The U.K. policy may seem shocking in the United States, where physician-assisted suicide is only legal in three states. But attitudes toward the treatment of the terminally ill differ around the globe. In the Netherlands, for example, mobile euthanasia units were recently launched.

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