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Withdrawing treatment: the legal position

Post date: 10/05/2019 | Time to read article: 1 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 10/05/2019

In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled that healthcare professionals across the UK no longer need to seek legal permission to withdraw treatment from patients in a permanent vegetative state.

The judgment in the case of NHS Trust v Y [2018] UKSC 46 ruled that when families and doctors are in agreement and believe it is in the patient’s best interests, Court of Protection approval is no longer required before withdrawing clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) in a patient with a prolonged disorder of consciousness (such as persistent vegetative state or minimally conscious state), even though the withdrawal will result in the death of the patient.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court placed emphasis on the importance of referring to relevant professional guidance when making decisions regarding life sustaining treatment, singling out GMC guidance, such as Treatment and Care Towards the End of Life.

The Court referred to the guidance that a second opinion should be sought from an independent clinician who should reach their own conclusion on whether CANH should be withheld.

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