Legal advice from Ian Sydenham, Partner specialising in Wills, Trusts and Probates
Q: Is it true that doctors and families no longer need the Court’s permission to withdraw life sustaining treatment?
A: The decision made on 30th July 2018 by the UK Supreme Court has confirmed earlier rulings which said that, if doctors and the family agree, then they can withdraw treatment without having to apply to the Court of Protection.
Previously the decision to withdraw clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) has required approval from the Court of Protection even where the family and doctors agreed. Applications to the Court of Protection could take a long time and involve considerable expense and stress for the patient’s family.
The case that brought this ruling to a decision was Mr Y who had suffered an extensive brain injury and had been in a vegetative state since June 2017. The medical experts had stated it was unlikely he would regain consciousness and they agreed with the families’ decision to withdraw hydration and nutrition.
Mr Y had not drawn up an advance decision notice to state he would decline treatment if he was to fall into a vegetative state, though his family were of the view he would not want to be kept alive.
While this case provides welcome clarity to the law in this area, it is only relevant in the most extreme cases. In many other situations it remains beneficial to have a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) in place, especially if there is chance of disagreements about decisions amongst the family.
An LPA is a legal document where you give another person (or persons) the authority to make decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself for any reason. There are two types of LPA and you can make either or both types.
- Property and Financial Affairs – this covers your attorney paying your bills, selling your property or investments and operating your bank accounts.
- Health and Welfare – this allows your attorney to make decisions about matters such as your medical treatment, diet, where you live and how you spend your time. It can also include advance decisions about treatment.