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Court permission no longer required to withdraw life-support

M (by her litigation friend, Mrs B) -v- A Hospital [2017] EWCOP 19

A landmark court ruling means that legal permission will no longer be needed before life-support treatment is withdrawn from patients with severely debilitating illnesses in England and Wales. 

The High Court ruling was made in a case involving a woman (identified as ‘M’) who had Huntington’s disease, a crippling genetic condition for which there is no cure.  She was bed-ridden in hospital and fed by a tube.  The Court agreed with her family and doctors that withdrawing nutrition from her would be in her best interests.  Her feeding tub was removed and she died shortly thereafter. 

Mr Justice Jackson said that, in his view, the case should not have come to court:

“The decision about what was in M’s best interests is one that could lawfully have been taken by her treating doctors, having fully consulted her family and having acted in accordance with the Mental Capacity Act and with recognised medical standards.”

The judgment means that, so long as relatives agree, and it’s in the best interests of a patient in a minimally conscious state, doctors can withdraw treatment that will result in the end of someone’s life.  Doctors do not need the permission of the court to do this.”

The official solicitor, who acts for such patients, is likely to appeal the case.

Compassion in Dying has welcomed the ruling.  Their commentary can be read here.  An article from The Independent can be read here.  

ECHR Art. 8