Life-sustaining treatment

The issue of Life Sustaining Treatment hit the headlines again after a key UK Supreme Court decision yesterday*.

What happened in the case?

The issue in question was withdrawing clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) from a patient in a persistent vegetative state. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the High Court that withdrawal, without a court decision, was lawful in circumstances where the medical team and family all agree that ending it is in the best interests of an irreversibly unconscious patient.

However, Lady Black clarified in her judgement that "The medical team must make their treatment decisions by determining what is in the patient's best interest. If it transpires that the way forward is finely balanced, there is a difference of medical opinion, or a lack of agreement from persons with an interest in the patient's welfare, a court application can and should be made".

Life-sustaining treatment decisions are always difficult. And this case demonstrates how the courts sometimes do need to be involved, even though no-one would choose that added element of stress for a family at an already difficult time.

What can I do to help my family if this ever happens to me?

While there will always be situations which are complicated and which may result in the courts being involved, there are ways you can try to avoid problems like this for your family

One way is to make a Health & Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney. In this document you specify who you want to speak on your behalf about Health & Welfare decisions that may need to be made while you're unconscious. You can also include restrictions and guidance to clarify your wishes and feelings.

For a more detailed document outlining your wishes and feelings you can prepare an Advance Decision document which lays out your views on what should happen in various circumstances.

Who should I contact?

If you want advice on any of these issues or documents, please contact Carolyn Snellgrove on 01492 588200 or

Carolyn Snellgrove

Nelson Myatt Solicitors LLP

01492 588200

*Case referred to: NHS Trust v Y & the Official Solicitor, 2018 UKSC 46

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