Life-supporting treatment can be withdrawn without court permission UK judge rules

Brendan Cole
Scales of justice

A high court judge in Britain has ruled that life-supporting treatment can be removed from patients without legal permission.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson said that as long as doctors and family of the patient can agree and if medical guidelines are met, life-sustaining treatment can be withdrawn from those in a vegetative state without the court order.

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The landmark judgement is likely to be appealed but the it was welcomed by the group Compassion in Dying, whose chief executive Sarah Wooton said it would mean a "more person-centred view of end-of-life care".

"When all parties, family, the hospital and treating doctors, are agreed on what someone would have wanted for their care, it seems absurd to require a costly court process to confirm this," she said, according to the Guardian.

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Families can spend up to £30,000 taking the cases to court to get permission to withdraw clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH).

Jackson said he did not think it was legally necessary for the court to take the decision to withdraw treatment, saying on Wednesday (20 September): "A mandatory litigation requirement may deflect clinicians and families from making true best-interests decisions and in some cases lead to inappropriate treatment continuing by default."

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The ruling will have a significant impact on the end-of-life care for patients in a persistent vegetative state.

Caroline Barrett, a human rights solicitor at the law firm Irwin Mitchell: "This judgement has great legal significance in that if relatives and doctors are in agreement... it is agreed that withdrawal of treatment is in the patient's best interests, the court has confirmed that there is no legal requirement for a court order before the treatment can be withdrawn."

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