Living Wills could ease doubts about Supreme Court ruling on easier withdrawal of treatment for permanently vegetative patients

A Wrexham solicitor has spoken out in support of this week’s controversial Supreme Court ruling that will see an end to legal permission having to be sought to withdraw treatment from patients who are in a permanent vegetative state. 

In addition the ruling means it will now be easier to withdraw food and liquid to allow such patients across England and Wales to die.  

Shane Maddocks, a specialist in Court of Protection matters at leading law firm, GHP Legal, believes the ruling is good news for families who do not wish to watch their loved ones continue living on for years in a non-reversible vegetative state. And making a ‘living will’ whilst we are fit and well could, he says, ease doubts and save others from making difficult decisions on our behalf.

“This ruling means families will no longer have to deal with courts as well as hospitals whilst they grieve and watch a relative come to the end of their life,” he says.

“The Court of Protection and the UK Supreme Court have, at times, no choice but to court controversy as they rule on cases that deal with stark life and death choices, and on who makes them.

“Before the advent of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, courts were seldom involved in decisions about whether to withdraw life support and in particular withdraw clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) for a person with a prolonged disorder of consciousness (PDOC) or other persistent vegetative state.

“It then became good practice to refer such cases to the Court of Protection, even if medics and family agreed there was no hope of recovery. This added protection for the unconscious patient inevitably led to delay, legal cost and stress for the family, and considerable extra cost to the cash strapped health service.

“Now the highest Court in the UK has decided in the judgement of NHS Trust v Y issued on 30 July 2018 that this is no longer necessary if all involved, including the family, have come to the sad conclusion that their loved one’s condition will never improve. 

“Undoubtedly for some there will be a nagging fear that by removing the requirement for such court procedures pressure may be put on families to agree with doctors and prevent proper judicial scrutiny of these most difficult decisions.

“However, those fears, together with what could be perceived as the burden of making decisions on someone else’s behalf,  could be negated if we all made a ‘living will’ in advance that expressed what we would want to happen if it was us on life support.

“It has always been the case that an attempt be made to ascertain the express or implicit wishes of the patient when he or she was last able to express them. Making a Living Will ensures such wishes are known for certain.”