There has recently been a landmark decision in the High Court regarding the withdrawal of life sustaining treatment for a terminally ill person.

The patient's daughter made an application to cease artificial feeding and hydration, on the basis that her mother was in the end stages of multiple sclerosis, could only move her eyes, and was described by medical experts as being minimally conscious.

The judge agreed that in consideration of the way the woman had lived her life and to preserve her dignity, she would have wanted treatment to cease. Evidence was received by the Court from friends, relatives and medical experts. The Official Solicitor who was appointed to represent the patient's interests withdrew their opposition to the application.

An important distinction should be drawn between this withdrawal of life sustaining treatment, and assisted suicide. The withdrawal of life sustaining treatment is classed as omitting to treat someone whereas assisted suicide is taking a positive step to bring someone's life to an end (for example, administering a drug which would result in death). Assisted suicide is still unlawful.

Situations such as these will continue to be dealt with by the Court on a case by case basis, taking account of each patient's quality of life and ability to benefit from the continuation of treatment.

However, if the patient had made a Lasting Power of Attorney for Health and Welfare then their Attorney could have been given the power to make decisions in relation to life sustaining treatment, and a court application would not have been needed.


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