Learning difficulties charities have heralded a landmark ruling
by the high court that people with learning difficulties should
receive the same medical treatment as everyone else,
writes Anabel Unity Sale.
Judge Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss ruled that a hospital had been
wrong to deny life saving medical treatment and only provide
palliative care to patient ‘S’, who has kidney failure, on the
basis that he has autism.
The family of S were unhappy with the hospital’s
recommendation in December 2002 that he receive no new forms of
dialysis or a kidney transplant because of his severe learning
difficulty. The family’s local social services department –
which cannot be named – supported their legal challenge.
Butler-Sloss, president of the high court’s family
division, said that not providing satisfactory medical treatment
was contrary to the rights of a mentally incapacitated patient
under UK and European law.
She added: “In my judgement, a kidney transplantation ought not
be rejected on the grounds of his inability to understand the
purpose and consequence of the operation or concerns about the
management of his behaviour.
“It is crucial that S, suffering, as he does, from serious
physical and mental problems, is not given less satisfactory
treatment than a person who has full capacity to understand the
risks, the pain and discomfort inseparable from such major
David Congdon, head of campaigns and policy at Mencap, said that
to deny treatment to someone because they had a disability was “an
assault on their basic human rights”.
Jean Collins, director of campaigning charity Values into
Action, added: “Hospitals have always taken it upon themselves to
decide which patients should have their resources. This will make
hospitals think again before they write-off someone with learning
John Dixon, Association of Directors of Social Services
spokesperson on learning difficulties, said that a lack of
understanding of the needs of people with learning difficulties led
to problems ensuring they received proper levels of health care.
“It takes that little bit extra attention from NHS staff to
recognise the needs of people with learning difficulties,” he