The issue of whether a person can choose death over life has been raised in relation to a 17 year old girl who took an overdose and needed urgent medical treatment.
A judgment published this week records that Mr. Justice Baker was asked by the NHS to grant an order authorising the administration of antidote therapy to the girl. She said her life was “shit” and resisted treatment beyond the point where her body might begin to break down towards death.
All medical treatment requires consent. The judge felt unable to conclude that the girl lacked capacity to withhold consent. A person with capacity who has reached the age of 18 may refuse treatment “even if that decision is unwise” he said. A person under the age of 18 may have the necessary capacity (including maturity, intelligence and understanding) to make such a decision.
However, the Judge found that “the court may, in the exercise of its inherent jurisdiction, override the child’s wishes in her best interests and give its consent to her treatment”.
The child’s welfare is the paramount consideration of the court in such cases. The wishes and feelings of the child were acknowledged as an important component, and must be considered as part of the individual’s right to respect for one’s private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
But the child’s wishes and Article 8 rights are not decisive and the court felt it must take account of other factors when considering her welfare, such as the harm she may suffer, and her right to life under Article 2 of the ECHR.
The Judge concluded that the court was under a “heavy duty” to take steps to protect the girl’s life, which was manifestly in danger.
The case demonstrates the sudden change in law once a person reaches 18, when the court can presumably no longer invoke its inherent jurisdiction to protect and promote the welfare of a child. After her 18th birthday the hospital would be unlikely to have obtained consent to treatment, effectively allowing her to commit suicide.
Yahoo News report
Read the judgment here: An NHS Foundation Hospital v P,