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Legal Permission No Longer Required For Permanent Vegetative State Care To End Rules Supreme Court

July 30, 2018

Legal permission will no longer be required to end care for patients in a permanent vegetative state, the Supreme Court has ruled.

It will now be easier to withdraw food and liquid to allow such patients to die.

When families and doctors are in agreement, medical staff will be able to remove feeding tubes without applying to the Court of Protection.

Lady Black ruled there was no violation under the Human Rights Convention.

The Court of Protection has ruled on cases for 25 years but the process can take months or years, and it costs health authorities about £50,000 in legal fees to lodge an appeal.

The case was brought to the Supreme Court after a banker in his 50s suffered a heart attack, resulting in severe brain damage.

He has since died but the case continued so that a court ruling could be made

The man, known as Mr Y, was unresponsive after his heart attack last year and there was no chance of recovery.

His family and his doctors agreed it would be in his best interests to allow him to die by withdrawing his feeding tube.

The NHS trust asked the High Court to declare that it was not necessary to apply to the Court of Protection for a decision when the doctors and the family all believe it is in the patient’s best interests.

The judge agreed, but the official solicitor appealed on behalf of Mr Y – an appeal which has now been dismissed.

‘Ruling will divide opinion’

In Monday’s Supreme Court judgement, Lady Black said an agreement between families and doctors was sufficient safeguarding to ensure “public confidence”.

But she urged families to apply to court “where there are differences of view” between relatives or medical professionals.

The charity Compassion in Dying said it would “allow those closest to a person – their loved ones and medical team – to feel supported and empowered to make the right decision for the person, even when it is a difficult one”.

The BBC’s legal correspondent Clive Coleman said it was a “very significant ruling” which would “divide opinion”.

“People have strong religious feelings about this, there are strong ethical feelings around all this,” he said.

“There will be some who consider this a compassionate ruling… there will be others who say this is a dangerous ruling along a slippery slope towards euthanasia.”

Dr Peter Saunders, director of anti-assisted dying group Care Not Killing, said he was “very concerned and quite disappointed by the Supreme Court ruling” on ending care for vegetative patients, who are “effectively going to be starved and dehydrated to death”.

He said it removed an “additional layer” of protection for vulnerable, and “financial concerns” about looking after vegetative patients could mean “decisions may be made for the wrong reasons”.

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