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28 August 2018

Mental Capacity – life sustaining treatment

Posted by: Chris Burrows

When a person requires life sustaining treatment, questions can arise over whether the continuation of medical care is in the person’s best interests.  In this tragic case the Judge has authorised the withdrawal of treatment, but the family may face an appeal of this decision.  Cases like this highlight the conflict of views that can arise and the efforts the Court and legal representatives go to when trying to establish what is in the patient’s best interests.The Court of Protection deals with cases where the person can’t make decisions about their own health, welfare or financial affairs and the Judges must decide what is in the person’s best interests.Cases regarding the withdrawal of life sustaining treatment can take a long time to reach a conclusion as careful consideration is given to the person’s medical condition and future prospects.  The Court will consider the wishes and feelings of the person who requires care and the views their family.Although it is a difficult conversation to have, discussing your wishes with your family may help them to represent your wishes if you cannot do so yourself.A Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for health and care can also be used to legally authorise people to make decisions on your behalf if you cannot.  The LPA can authorise your attorneys to make decisions about whether you should receive life sustaining treatment or not.  This is useful when treatment options are being considered as the attorney’s consent or refusal has the same legal weight as you consenting or refusing treatment yourself. However, in all cases where a patient in a permanently vegetative state (or a similar condition) is receiving life sustaining treatment, and the question arises whether the treatment should be withdrawn, the decision cannot be made without the approval of the Court.Making sure your wishes are known by those closest to you, and making a Lasting Power of Attorney, may make take some of the doubt out of the decision if you require life sustaining treatment.

Mr Justice Charles announced his decision on Tuesday after analysing evidence presented at a hearing in Manchester last month in the court of protection, where judges consider issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to take decisions. The judge agreed that it was not in Briggs’s best interests for treatment to continue, and that it was lawful to withdraw treatment. He recommended that Briggs be moved to a hospice to be given palliative care for the final weeks of his life.
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Chris Burrows

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