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.