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19 November 2015

Landmark case in UK court allows withdrawal of treatment for patient in accordance with family wishes

In a landmark ruling today the Court of Protection has allowed medics treating a 68 year old woman (known as Mrs N) in a minimally conscious state to withdraw ‘clinically assisted nutrition and hydration’ (CANH).

In a landmark ruling today the Court of Protection has allowed medics treating a 68 year old woman (known as Mrs N) in a minimally conscious state to withdraw ‘clinically assisted nutrition and hydration’ (CANH).

The woman’s daughter wanted the healthcare team to stop life-sustaining treatment because her mother, who is in a minimally conscious state at the end stage of multiple sclerosis, has no quality of life as she (Mrs N) would have perceived it.

This follows a previous ruling by the Court of Protection in 2011 which ruled that treatment could not be withdrawn from a patient in a minimally conscious state, at the family’s request.

Currently only 4% of the UK population have formally recorded their end-of-life wishes, despite 82% having strong feelings about what treatment they would and would not want at the end of life. Worryingly, over half (53%) of the public mistakenly believe that they have an automatic right to make decisions on behalf of a seriously ill loved one. If the patient has not made a Lasting Power of Attorney or an Advance Decision, then the final decision will lie with the doctor.

Compassion in Dying has just released a booklet ‘Starting the Conversation’ which supports people to talk about their wishes for future care and treatment.

Davina Hehir, Director of Policy at Compassion in Dying, said:

“This case represents a landmark for the courts taking into account a person’s previously expressed wishes when deciding what treatment they would or would not want.

“The experience of the family in this case must have been harrowing and our hearts go out to them. People can help to avoid these distressing cases by planning ahead for their own treatment.

“The forthcoming New Year provides a good opportunity for people to plan for many things including their end of life treatment. We encourage people to make a resolution to make an Advance Decision so they can be in control of their own end of life care, where families and doctors do not have to navigate a legal quagmire at an already difficult time.”


Notes for the editor:
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 3,304 adults of which 2671 chose to answer these questions; 1937 had a close friend/relative who passed away from a long/short illness. Fieldwork was undertaken between 29th April – 1st May 2015. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Compassion in Dying
Compassion in Dying is a national charity (no. 1120203) that aims to support people at the end of life to have what they consider to be a good death by providing information and support around their legal rights and choices. We are a leading provider of free Advance Decisions in the UK and we also conduct and review research around patient rights and choices in end-of-life care.

Compassion in Dying is the sister organisation of Dignity in Dying and was set up to help people exercise their rights and choices under the current law. The charity does not campaign for a change in the law on assisted dying.

Advance Decision
An Advance Decision allows you to record any medical treatments that you do not want to be given in the future, in case you later become unable to make or communicate decisions for yourself. It will only be used if you cannot make or communicate a decision for yourself. The legal name is an Advance Decision to Refuse Treatment, and it is also sometimes called a Living Will or an Advance Directive.

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