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Court of Protection case reopens long-running debate

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The Court of Protection recently ruled that a middle-aged woman had the right to refuse life-saving treatment.

The case has triggered significant debate not least because the 50-year-old, identified only as C, died a few weeks after the Judge had ruled she was within her rights to reject kidney dialysis.

The Court of Protection heard how the woman had damaged her organs after taking a drugs overdose and had subsequently refused dialysis.

Medics at the King’s College Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had argued that the woman suffered a “dysfunction of the mind” and asked the Judge to rule it would be in her best interests to impose treatment if necessary.

However, their application was rejected by Mr Justice MacDonald who acknowledged that many people would be horrified by the woman’s decision but said that did not change the fact that the individual was of sound mind.

In his ruling, he said that the UK’s laws enshrined the principle that those with capacity could make choices about their own medical treatment regardless of whether the “reasons for making the choice are rational, irrational, unknown or even non-existent.”

He added: “Where a patient refuses life-saving medical treatment the court is only entitled to intervene in circumstances where the court is satisfied that the patient does not have the mental capacity to decide whether or not to accept or refuse such treatment.

“My decision that C has capacity to decide whether or not to accept dialysis does not, and should not prevent her treating doctors from continuing to seek to engage with C in an effort to persuade her of the benefits of receiving life-saving treatment in accordance with their duty to C as their patient.”

The right of individuals to refuse medical treatment has long been the subject of ferocious debate, with instances of Jehovah’s Witnesses turning down blood transfusions probably the most commonly referenced example.

At Lester Morrill, our specialist Court of Protection solicitors are experienced in working with vulnerable individuals and their families, friends and care teams to ensure the best possible outcome. We currently manage cases involving private clients, solicitors, local authorities, referrals from the court and case managers. We also advise on matters relating to health and welfare, receiving referrals from family members and advocates. Please contact our team for further information.