March 11, 1995 in Nation/World

Court Agrees Money Would Be Wasted Treating Girl Judges Rule Health Authority Can Withhold Public Funds From Girl With Lukemia

Maureen Johnson Associated Press
 

In a landmark case, appeal judges agreed Friday that a 10-year-old leukemia sufferer should be refused state-funded treatment because it is expensive and the girl will almost certainly die anyway.

The case, which was followed nationwide, underlined the moral quandaries of doctors and health administrators involved in what is effectively the rationing of treatment in Britain’s cash-strapped National Health Service.

Appeal Judge Sir Thomas Bingham said it was not for courts to interfere in difficult decisions by doctors about who will get treatment.

“This was an understandable but misguided attempt to involve the courts in matters they are not qualified to decide,” Bingham said.

Lawyers for the girl’s father, who tried to force the Cambridge Health Authority to give her a second bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy costing $120,000, expressed dismay.

“We still hope the authority will reconsider,” said the family’s attorney, Michael Sinclair.

The courts ordered reporters to identify the girl as B to keep her from learning how close to death she is.

The girl, who lives near Cambridge, 70 miles from London, with her divorced father and younger sister, developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1990, when she was five.

She was treated at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and declared recovered mid-1992. In 1993 she developed acute myeloid leukemia - a rarer form of the disease - and received chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Her sister was the donor.

She returned to school in May, but suffered a relapse in January. Doctors gave her six to eight weeks to live in midJanuary.

Her father brought the case because the health authority, declaring the girl had a 2.25 percent chance of surviving, refused to fund another transplant and chemotherapy.

The authority said it had to consider “all the other claims on its limited resources,” and that the treatment would increase the girl’s suffering and probably kill her.

Spending on Britain’s National Health Service, now $54 billion, has risen steadily - as have demands for service, fueled by the availability of increasingly sophisticated and expensive treatments.

The girl’s case was the latest of several controversial cases that provoked debate on whether costly and often traumatic treatments should be given to one child when the money could be used for others with better chances of recovery.

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