Landmark ruling over life-prolonging treatment

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

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lawfully withdrawn fearing that his wish to die naturally could be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

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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