Supreme Court rules in favour of ‘agreed’ end-of-life decisions

The Supreme Court has ruled legal permission will no longer be required to end the care for patients in a permanent vegetative state. The case was originally brought before the Court after a banker suffered a heart attack which caused significant brain damage.

According to the ruling, when families and doctors are in agreement, medical staff will be able to withdraw food and liquid without having to apply to the Court of Protection.

Today’s ruling could have a profound impact on thousands of families whose relatives remain in a vegetative state. Estimates suggest that around 24,000 people in the UK are in a permanent vegetative or minimally conscious state.

Justice Lady Black ruled that there was no violation of the Human Rights Convention.

Analysis from Oliver Murphy- Editor

This is a momentous ruling and one that will divide opinion. For families enduring an agonising wait, this decision could not have come soon enough.

The judgement will have undoubtedly stirred religious and ethical beliefs. Whilst some will view it as a compassionate step, others will view the decision as the removal of a safeguard for a vulnerable people.

The Court of Protection has ruled on end-of-life cases for over 25 years, but such a process can take months or even years, costing health authorities around £50,000 in legal fees to lodge appeals.

Doctors, with the consent of families, have been able to withdraw treatments that will result in the ending of a patient’s life. However, the withdrawal of food and water has been treated differently. Indeed, since the case of Anthony Bland in 1993, it has been regarded as routine for doctors to seek the approval of a court, even when there is the consensus between both medical staff and relatives on the best course of action for the patient.

The removal of such basic requirements for life has been treated as such perhaps because of the immense emotional significance of the decision to remove sustenance from an individual.

However, whilst this is the case, experts believe the reluctance for medical staff and families to apply to court, has contributed to individuals spending longer in a vegetative state.

The Supreme Court’s decision has rightly transferred the interests of patients away from the courts and into the hands of medical experts and families in an act that will prevent the continuation of suffering on both sides.


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