Court rulings no longer needed for ‘end of life’ decisions

Family Law|September 21st 2017

It may no longer be necessary for doctors and families to obtain court permission to withdraw life-preserving treatment from comatose patients following a precedent-setting Court of Protection ruling.

The case in question concerned a woman referred to as ‘M’, who sadly, developed Huntington’s Disease, a serious and incurable genetic illness while still in her 20s. She lived with the condition for more than two decades but eventually lapsed into a persistent and incurable vegetative state. Doctors treating her applied for the withdrawal of her life support treatment. M’s mother supported their application.

Permission was granted by Mr Justice Peter Jackson earlier this year and the woman eventually passed away in July. The judge’s ruling has now been published.

During the hearing, Mr Justice Peter Jackson concluded that in future, court permission to end life-preserving treatment should not be necessary in such cases, as long as there is clear agreement between relatives of the severely ill patient and the doctors treating them.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson declared:

“On the facts of this case, I do not consider it to have been a legal requirement for the decision to withdraw CANH (clinically-assisted feeding and hydration) to have been taken by the court.”

Noting the high cost of such cases (about £30,000), the veteran judge continued:

“There was no statutory obligation to bring the case to court .A mandatory litigation requirement may deflect clinicians and families from making true best-interests decisions and in some cases lead to inappropriate treatment continuing by default.”

The ruling places Mr Justice Peter Jackson at odds with the Official Solicitor, who has expressed support for mandatory court hearings in all such cases. The latter  is now expected to appeal the ruling.

Read the ruling here.

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