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Solicitor hits out at Supreme Court judgement over end-of-life decisions

A North Wales solicitor has hit out at a Supreme Court ruling which means legal permission will no longer be needed to withdraw treatment from patients in permanent vegetative state.

[aoa id=”1″]The judgment means it will now be easier to withdraw food and liquid to allow such patients to die across the UK, with the final decision being left to the patient’s family and doctors.

Sian Thompson, from Swayne Johnson which has a base in Llandudno, and offices in Bangor, St Asaph, Denbigh, Ruthin and Tattenhall in Cheshire, isn’t happy with the decision.

She said: “Rather than leaving this matter in the hands of the doctors, it may have been better to establish a cost effective and streamlined process for an independent decision.”[/aoa]

According to Ms Thompson, it would be far better to encourage people to prepare Living Wills in which people could make their wishes clear about how they should be treated if they fall ill.

At the Supreme Court, Lady Black ruled there was no violation under the Human Rights Convention and there was no longer a need to apply to the Court of Protection to remove feeding tubes when families and doctors are in agreement.

Relatives who have faced the court process in the past said the ruling would help families dealing with a “tragic situation”.

But anti-assisted dying campaigners said vegetative patients are “effectively going to be starved and dehydrated to death”.

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

The ruling could have an impact on the thousands of families whose loved ones are in a vegetative state.
There are estimated to be 1,500 new cases each year in England and Wales which would be affected, with about 3,000 of these patients alive at any one time.

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

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.

Ms Thompson added: “One of the difficulties in Mr Y’s case and so many others in similar circumstances was that he had left no instructions or indication of his own views.

“That situation is avoided by setting up an Advance Decision also known as a Living Will. This is a legal document directing medical treatment and other care. It can be very detailed but at its most basic includes directions regarding resuscitation and life sustaining treatment.

“Over the years I have prepared numerous Living Wills and no one has ever felt that food and drink should be withdrawn.

“Instead, when requesting that life sustaining treatment is withdrawn, the client asks that palliative care and nutrition be maintained so that they are kept as comfortable and free from pain as possible.

“The recent decision in the Supreme Court casts doubt on how hospitals will now approach these issues. I hope this will highlight the importance of considering these difficult subjects and setting up a Living Will before the worst happens.”