Family Law Titles
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(Family Division; Sir Mark Potter P; 8 November 2006)
The 53-year-old patient had been unconscious for over 3 years, in a permanent vegetative state. The health trust, supported by the patient's husband and family, sought a declaration that withdrawal of treatment, including artificial hydration and nutrition, would be lawful in this case. The evidence from the family was that the patient would not wish her life to be prolonged in her present condition. The Official Solicitor, representing the patient's interests, opposed the immediate grant of the declarations sought on the basis of recent research articles which suggested that a particular drug had induced arousal from the permanent vegetative state in certain cases. The Official Solicitor proposed a test of the drug; response was usually immediate, and if there was no response within 3 days, it could be presumed that there would never be a response. The family opposed this course, concerned that any improvement would only increase the patient's pain and suffering.
Although the expert evidence was that the drug in question was unlikely to make any difference to this patient, a declaration was made that a 3-day course of the drug would be lawful as being in the patient's best interest. There was an outside chance, worthy of trial, which according to expert opinion was unlikely to involve any kind of suffering or upset should consciousness be restored; if any improvement led to apparent distress on the part of the patient, the treatment could be stopped. The case was to return to court if, as was likely, no improvement was seen. In the unlikely event of the patient regaining consciousness, there might be a debate as to the benefits of further treatment which would also need to return to court.
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