Supreme Court judgement regarding end of life decisions

Sunday, 12 August 2018

A recent judgement by the UK Supreme Court regarding end of life decisions has been widely reported.  The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that legal permission will no longer be needed to withdraw treatment from patients in a permanent vegetative state.  It will now be easier to withdraw food and liquid to allow such patients to die across the UK.  When families and doctors are in agreement, medical staff will be able to remove feeding tubes without applying to the Court.  Relatives who have faced the court process in the past have welcomed this ruling which should help families dealing with such a distressing situation.

There are also steps you can take in your lifetime to ensure your wishes regarding end of life care are taking into account.

Firstly, you should ensure you have put a Power of Attorney in place.  A Power of Attorney can include both financial and welfare powers.  The welfare powers would allow your appointed attorney to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.   It is important that you appoint someone you trust to carry out your wishes and that you have properly discussed your wishes regarding medical treatment with them so that they know what you would want to happen.  Your welfare attorney would effectively be stepping into your shoes to make these difficult decisions if you were unable.

Secondly, it can give your welfare attorney peace of mind if you have also granted a Living Will (also known as an Advance Directive).  A Living Will is a document which sets out the circumstances in which a person does not want to receive certain medical treatments, should they be unable to communicate their wishes at some time in the future.  It allows someone to express their wishes in respect of how far they want medical staff to go to keep them alive following a life-altering event such as a major stroke, paralysis or the later stages after a terminal diagnosis.  In your Living Will you can state that you do not wish your life to be artificially prolonged by life support machines or tube feeding if you suffer from one of the listed conditions.  Once you have signed a Living Will a copy should be given to your GP to place with your medical records and you should ensure your loved ones are aware that you have signed one.

If you would like advice regarding Powers of Attorney or Living Wills/Advance Directives then please contact one of our Lifetime Legal team on 01383 721141.

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