Response to judgment on Advance Decision of woman in persistent vegetative state
Compassion in Dying responds to the Court of Protection judgment on the case of Mrs Rushton, which was made public yesterday (26 March 2019):
- Mrs Rushton was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state following a traumatic head injury in December 2015.
- Prior to her injury, Mrs Rushton had completed a legally-binding Advance Decision (Living Will), which stated that if she should “collapse” in future and become unable to make or communicate decisions about her treatment and care, she would not want to be resuscitated or receive any life-prolonging treatment.
- However, following Mrs Rushton’s injury and diagnosis of a persistent vegetative state, she was provided with life-prolonging treatment in the form of clinically-assisted nutrition and hydration.
Usha Grieve, Director of Partnerships and Information at Compassion in Dying, said,
“This is a tragic and distressing case in which the clearly expressed wishes of Mrs Rushton were disregarded, meaning that for many years she was provided with the very treatment she had taken great pains to refuse. It is particularly worrying that a GP surgery failed, either through a lack of understanding or a dereliction of duty, to take the necessary action to ensure a legally-binding Advance Decision (formerly known as a Living Will) was respected.
“As a result, Mrs Rushton’s family have had to endure not only the heartbreak of seeing a loved one become gravely ill with little hope of recovery, but a dispute over her care and treatment.
“Having supported more than 44,000 people to plan ahead for their future treatment and care, we know that people often choose to make an Advance Decision because they have strong feelings about the treatment they would not want in future, should they become unable to make or communicate such decisions. Many take great comfort and peace of mind from recording their wishes in such a legally binding way, rightly assuming that if they do become seriously unwell, difficult decisions will be taken out of the hands of their family members and doctors will be duty-bound by law to respect and follow their stated wishes.
“In research published last year, we revealed that callers to our Information Line reported GPs being hesitant, not confident or even unwilling to discuss or record their Advance Decisions, and that misunderstandings about the significance and role of Advance Decisions were common. Our experience shows that while patients feel ready and able to talk about death and dying, often healthcare professionals do not.
“If cases like Mrs Rushton’s are to be avoided in future, it is essential that GPs are supported to play their part in ensuring that their patients’ wishes for treatment and care can be properly discussed, recorded and followed. We recognise that GP practices are under immense pressure, so we want to offer our support and expertise to help improve practice.
“Free, specialist information on how to plan ahead is available to members of the public and healthcare professionals via Compassion in Dying’s nurse-led Information Line (0800 999 2434) and website.”