This week the Court of Protection decided that a woman whose nearest and dearest believed she had no quality of life should not be allowed to die.
‘M’ had been struck by a nasty virus as she prepared for a skiing holiday, and at 43 suffered extensive and irreparable brain damage. After years of care her partner, sister and mother applied to the court, with the doctors’ support, to declare that life-sustaining medical treatment (including articifial nutrition and hydration) could be stopped.
In the past such cases have been decided on the basis that the patient is in a Persistent Vegetative State and therefore has no perceptible quality of life. At the time of the hearing, some 8 years after she fell into a coma, modern tests showed that ‘M’ had a higher quality of life, termed by medics as a ‘Minimally Conscious State’, aware to some extent of herself and her environment. Although the family contested this view, the court decided that it was in ‘M’s best interests for life to continue.
Both ‘M’s partner of 21 years and her close sister testified that ‘M’ would not have wanted to continue with this life, but in spite of this, and in the absence of any written evidence of ‘M’s wishes, the court decided that the principle of sanctity of life was of overwhelming importance. The evidence of the family did not carry decisive weight.
It seems likely that a written statement by ‘M’ of her wishes might have overruled the court’s presumption in favour of life. M was neither elderly nor disabled when this illness struck, and would perhaps not have considered setting down her thoughts. Yet clearly a written statement of her wishes would have saved her family both stress and lengthy arguments.
A simple written and signed statement may save your family much grief.
Source: News reports 28 September 2011
For more information on making decisions for others, see the DirectGov website sections on mental capacity.
The Court of Protection is a specialist court for issues relating to people who lack capacity to make specific decisions. The Court makes decisions (and appoints deputies to make decisions) in what it determines is their best interests.