Compassion in Dying responds to judgment on M's case
Sarah Wootton, Chief Executive of Compassion in Dying, has responded to the decision on the case of M.
Today’s judgment is a helpful step towards a clearer, more person-centred view of end-of-life care. When all parties – family, the hospital and treating doctors – are agreed on what someone would have wanted for their care, it seems absurd to require a costly court process to confirm this.
M’s wishes were clear and have not been contested. M’s mother, stepfather and daughter all agreed that it would not have been M’s wishes to be kept alive without hope of recovery or improvement. Her doctors agreed that being kept alive with artificial hydration and nutrition was not in her best interests and may be causing her discomfort, distress and existential suffering. Nonetheless, court proceedings were at the time deemed necessary so as to protect healthcare professionals due to the uncertain legal situation in these cases.
While the judgment is likely to be contested by the Official Solicitor, we believe Mr Justice Peter Jackson’s reasoning is sound. It should not be necessary to require court proceedings to respect a person’s wishes simply because they are in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) or minimally conscious state (MCS). That requirement is unduly onerous on families and on the health services, who would need to expend large amounts of money even where there is no dispute as to the right course of action. As the judgment points out, it may even lead to inappropriate treatment continuing against a person’s wishes simply to avoid having to go through the Court of Protection.
It is clear that the best way to avoid complicated and costly hearings in the court is to ensure your wishes are recorded in an Advance Decision or Advance Statement. These are legally binding and enforceable statements that would ensure anyone who is unable to express their wishes can nonetheless have them respected by healthcare professionals. Anyone who is faced with a chronic and progressive illness should consider completing an Advance Decision or Advance Statement so that they, their friends, their family and their caregivers can be certain that they get the treatment and care that’s right for them.
Compassion in Dying provides free Advance Decisions, Advance Statements and support to plan ahead through our Information Line on 0800 999 2434 and www.mydecisions.org.uk.