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Landmark ruling on end-of-life decisions for patients in a vegetative state

Aug 1st, 2018

Lisa Gray, Chartered Legal Executive, Senior Associate

Families and doctors will now be able to make the decision to withdraw treatment from patients in a permanent vegetative state as the UK Supreme Court has unanimously confirmed the courts no longer need to be consulted prior to switching off life support.

A catalyst for change

This landmark ruling came after a case was bought forward involving Mr Y, an active man in his 50s who suffered a cardiac arrest and failed to regain consciousness. Following the agreement of two doctors that his case was hopeless and his family giving consent to withdrawal of life support, their decision was disputed by the official solicitor, acting as Mr Y’s friend, challenging on the grounds that every case concerning withdrawal of life support should come before the courts.

Permission was granted to go straight to the Supreme Court given the subject; however this appeal has since been dismissed due to the withdrawal of Mr Y’s life support being deemed lawful in these circumstances.

Divided opinions

The ruling has caused a divided opinion with some arguing that while this may be seen as compassionate and humane, it is simply removing a vital legal safeguard for a highly vulnerable group. Dr Peter Saunders, director of anti-assisted dying group, Care Not Killing has expressed his disappointment at the Supreme Court ruling, stating that it had ‘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’. However the charity Compassion in Dying has said it would ‘allow those closest to make the right decision for the person, even when it is a difficult one’.

Chartered Legal Executive, Lisa Gray has advised that by having an LPA (Last Power of Attorney) in place for your health and welfare, it will mean that you can make your wishes clear should someone need to make a decision on your end of life care. As detailed in a new report from Solicitors for the Elderly, while people may be well prepared regarding their financial decisions, health and care can often be forgotten so it is important that you have made your legal preparations to ensure you receive the end of life care that you wish for.

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Lisa Gray

Chartered Legal Executive, Senior Associate

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