The Court of Protection has recently heard a case concerning a 43 year old policeman who was badly injured in a motorbike accident in July 2015 and was left in a minimally conscious state.
The injured man was Paul Briggs. His wife had applied to the court for his life sustaining treatment to be withdrawn. Other family members opposed the application saying that Paul would not want this.
The medical staff had two options:
- to transfer him to a rehabilitation centre to see if an improvement in his condition could be achieved, or
- to transfer him to a hospice, withdraw clinically assisted nutrition and hydration and allow him to die.
Doctors thought that Paul might live another 9 or 10 years in a minimally conscious state.
Where a person lacks capacity to make a decision about their medical treatment, the law states that the court must consider a number of factors, including what their wishes and beliefs were before they became incapacitated.
The court heard evidence about what Paul thought about life sustaining treatment before his accident. His wife gave evidence about the views he expressed on this subject when her own mother was dying of cancer and had refused some types of treatment such as feeding tube.
In an earlier blog, I set out the facts of Re M, a case decided by the Court in 2011. In that case, M had been in a minimally conscious state for 8 years following a skiing accident. The court decided that they could not authorise the withdrawal of life sustaining treatment because M had not left written guidance saying that she would want treatment withdrawn in those circumstances.
In this case Paul had not left any written guidance as to his wishes, but after hearing all the evidence, the court decided that life sustaining treatment should be withdrawn.
This is an encouraging development for families who are struggling against the general principle of preservation of life at all costs. It is estimated that there may be are around 4,000 to 16,000 patients in a persistent vegetative state in the UK and three times as many in a minimally conscious state.
But it should be remembered that the family members in this case had to give evidence over a period of four days and they were divided on what Paul would have wanted. If Paul had set out his wishes in writing before the accident, this gruelling experience would have been avoided.
This website provides assistance with drafting written guidelines on the treatment you would not want to have in certain situations and we at HJA can also assist with drafting living wills (also known as advance directives).