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Life Support Systems

Volume 972: debated on Monday 22 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) if he will introduce legislation to set out the criteria governing medical discretion over the switching off of life support systems in hospitals;(2) if he will bring forward legislation to provide that life support systems should not in future be switched off without prior consultation with the patient's relatives except in the most exceptional circumstances which should be strictly defined.

No. I do not consider that legislation on these matters would be appropriate. Criteria for the diagnosis of brain death were drawn up by the Conference of Royal Colleges and Faculties of the United Kingdom in 1976. These criteria were endorsed by the

£ million
RHAEstimated cost of increased VATIncrease in allocation to offset extra costCost of Clegg awardsIncrease in allocation towards extra costGain to Exchequer from additional VATIncome tax revenue on increases
East Anglia1·4–1·61·31·11·4–1·6
North West Thames4·0–4·52·62·34·0–4·5
North East Thames3·8–4·33·12·83·8–4·3
South East Thames3·7–4·23·12·83·7–4·2
South West Thames3·0–3·33·02·63·0–3·3
South Western2·5–2·82·32·12·5–2·8
West Midlands3·9–4·43·73·33·9–4·4
North Western3·3–3·73·22·93·3–3·7
Total40·0–45·0Nil36·032·640·0–45·0Not available

Standing Medical Advisory Committee, and on its advice were circulated by the chief medical officer to all hospital doctors in January 1978 for guidance in cases where consideration is being given to the switching off of mechanical ventilation. I would certainly expect parents or relatives to be kept fully informed other than in exceptional circumstances.