Landmark ruling over life-prolonging treatment

    Patients’ rights to life-prolonging treatment were boosted
    last week by a landmark High Court ruling, writes Amy
    Taylor
    .

    Leslie Burke, who has a degenerative brain condition, sought
    clarification over when artificial nutrition and hydration can be
    lawfully withdrawn fearing that his wish to die naturally could be
    overridden by doctors under existing General Medical Council
    guidance.

    The court ruled that Burke and anybody else who asked for
    life-prolonging treatment should have their wishes met unless the
    patient had “lapsed into a coma”, lacking all awareness
    of what was happening.

    It also ruled that if a patient was incompetent and had not
    expressed any prior view, doctors should only stop life prolonging
    treatment if the patient would view their life to be
    “intolerable” if prolonged

    The Disability Rights Commission said the intolerability test
    – already used by the courts – was set much higher than
    current GMC guidelines.

    Burke’s solicitor Paul Conrathe added that the judgement
    represented a “significant shift in the balance of power away
    from the doctor to the patient and from the medical profession to
    the courts”.

     

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