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A step in the right direction? Supreme court rules on end of life decisions

View profile for Komal Hussain
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The Supreme Court has ruled that in circumstances where families and doctors are in agreement, an application to the Court of Protection will not have to be made to end a persons life who is in a long term permanent vegetative state.

In the Supreme Court’s  judgement, Lady Black said an agreement between families and doctors was sufficient safeguarding to ensure "public confidence".

However, she urged families to apply to court "where there are differences of view" between relatives or medical professionals.

The Court ruled there was no violation under the European Convention for Human Rights.

Background

The case was brought to the Supreme Court after a male in his 50s suffered a heart attack, resulting in severe brain damage. The male was unresponsive and medical prognosis showed that there was no chance of recovery. His family and doctors agreed it would be in his best interests to allow him to die by withdrawing his feeding tube.

The NHS trust asked the High Court to declare that it was not necessary to apply to the Court of Protection for a decision when the doctors and the family all believe it is in the patient's best interests.

The Supreme Court who ruled that in such circumstances food and liquid could be withdrawn to allow such patients to die.

Vegetative State

  • “A vegetative state is when a person is awake but is showing no signs of awareness. They may open their eyes, wake up and fall asleep at regular intervals and have basic reflexes. They're also able to regulate their heartbeat and breathing without assistance
  • A person in a vegetative state doesn't show any meaningful responses, such as following an object with their eyes or responding to voices. They also show no signs of experiencing emotions
  • Continuing - or persistent - vegetative state is when this happens for more than four weeks
  • Permanent vegetative state is defined as more than six months if caused by a non-traumatic brain injury, or more than 12 months if caused by a traumatic brain injury
  • If a person is diagnosed as being in a permanent vegetative state, recovery is extremely unlikely but not impossible.”[1]

Court of Protection

The Court of Protection, makes decisions on welfare issues for people who lack the mental capacity to do so themselves. For the last 25 years, such cases have been decided by the Court of Protection however the exact number of cases is unknown but believed to be in the thousands.

Other powers that the Court has includes the appointment of deputies to make ongoing decisions for people who lack mental capacity. They can also give people permission to make one-off decisions on behalf of someone else who lacks mental capacity. The Court of Protection is able to handle urgent or emergency applications where a decision must be made on behalf of someone else without delay.

As well as dealing with Deputyships, the Court makes decisions about Lasting Powers of Attorney or Enduring Powers of Attorney and will consider any objections to the registration of these.

The Court of Protection also has the power to make decisions about when someone can be deprived of their liberty under the Mental Capacity Act (click here for more information about Mental Capacity).

How can we Help?

If you need to apply for Court of Protection Deputyship it is often because a child, friend or loved one has suffered deterioration in their health.  Our team of experienced Court of Protection solicitors understand that this is a particularly sensitive time and will take the burden of making the Application to the Court of Protection into our hands so you can concentrate on your loved one. 

Aside from submitting successful Court of Protection Deputyship Applications, we act as Professional Deputies for numerous people.   We continue to act for many long-term clients and have built up excellent and informed relationships.

If you or someone you know wishes to discuss an application to the Court of Protection please contact our Court of Protection team on 0113 245 8549 or by completing an online enquiry form.

[1] BBC news - https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-45003947