Supreme Court End of Life Ruling

Topics covered: Court of Protection, legal news, NHS

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled that legal permission to withdraw treatment from patients in a permanent vegetative state will no longer be necessary.

The effect of the ruling means that, when families and doctors agree, it will now be easier for medical staff to withdraw food and liquid from patients without having to apply to the Court of Protection.

The case that was brought before the Supreme Court related to a man in his fifties, known as Mr Y, who had a heart attack which resulted in severe brain damage. Experts said it was unlikely that Mr Y would ever regain consciousness and both Mr Y’s family and his doctors agreed it would be in his best interests to allow him to die by withdrawing his feeding tube.

Groups representing people with diminished capacity had appealed an earlier High Court ruling allowing this withdrawal, and Mr Y died in December 2017 while still being artificially fed. It was decided appeal to the Supreme Court should proceed due to the importance of the issues raised.

In Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, Lady Black held that if families and doctors were in agreement about a patient’s best interests, this was a sufficient safeguarding measure to ensure ‘public confidence’ and a judge’s authorisation should not be required.

Previously the Court of Protection has ruled on cases but the process can take months or even years and it costs health authorities about £50,000 in legal fees to lodge an appeal.

However, Lady Black also expressed that although applications to court are not necessary in every case, there are some circumstances where an application would be required, for example, where there are differences of view’ between relatives or medical professionals.

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