The Supreme Court has ruled that the Courts do not need to be involved in cases of continuing care for those in a persistent vegetative state.
In recent years, if doctors have felt it was time to withdraw food and liquid from someone in a persistent vegetative state, they have applied to the Court or Protection. However, it has now been made clear by the Supreme Court, the country’s highest Court, that this application is not necessary if the family and doctors are all in agreement.
The ruling was given by Lady Black, with the four other sitting judges all concurring without comment. It was noted that there is nothing in English law or in the European Convention of Human Rights that dictates that a judge must be involved when deciding to withdraw food or liquid from someone in a persistent vegetative state.
The matter had reached the Supreme Court following the illness and later death of a banker in his fifties, who had been unresponsive for some time after a heart attack. His family and the hospital agreed to withdraw support, but the Official Solicitor, acting on behalf of the patient, challenged the ruling given by the High Court, that the Court need not be involved.
Much of the media has reported on the issue and there has been comment on both sides. Natalie Koussa a director from Compassion in Dying was quoted by the BBC as saying:
“[The Supreme Court ruling] brings much needed clarity to doctors and loved ones […it] also recognises the fact that sometimes, sadly, it is in someone’s best interests to withdraw treatment.”
On the other side, Dr Peter Saunders, director of anti-assisted dying group Care Not Killing said, in The Guardian:
“[I am] concerned and disappointed by the Supreme Court ruling [… patients are] effectively going to be starved and dehydrated to death”.
It is inevitable that people will feel strongly about this issue. However, it is worth remembering that if the patient in this case had recorded his wishes or appointed someone to act as an attorney for him, who had known his wishes, there would have been no need to involve the law.
Article written by Vicky Austin, 7th August 2018