Court of Protection Ruling on Life-Sustaining Treatment

The Court of Protection has ruled that Doctors should stop providing life-sustaining treatment to a former police officer who is in a ‘minimally conscious state’ following a motorcycle accident last year.

The wife of Paul Briggs asked the Court of Protection to decide if life-sustaining treatment could be removed, allowing her husband to die.   She argued that Mr Briggs would not want to be kept alive, but the Official Solicitor acting for her husband claimed that he might make some recovery in the future and emerge from his minimally conscious state.  Medical opinion confirmed that, even in the best case scenario, Mr Briggs would be severely physically disabled.

The Court agreed that it was not in Mr Briggs’ best interests for life support to continue, and ruled that life-sustaining treatment could lawfully be withdrawn.

The case highlights the importance of making decisions in advance, and is likely to promote public discussion on these issues. It is a common misconception that a person’s “next of kin” will have the power to make medical decisions on their behalf should they become mentally incapable of deciding for themself.   In fact, when a patient loses mental capacity, the power to make decisions concerning treatment lies with medical staff.  Whilst doctors will consult with relatives, they are not bound by the opinions of the family.

Adults with mental capacity can make Health and Welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney to appoint someone to make decisions on their behalf if they lost capacity in the future.    A Health and Welfare Attorney can make decisions about medical treatment and care.  The person granting the Power of Attorney (known as the Donor) must also decide whether to give their Attorneys the power to make decisions about life-sustaining treatment, or whether to leave those decisions in the hands of doctors.

Unfortunately, a Lasting Power of Attorney cannot be made once someone has lost mental capacity. Once a person loses capacity, the only option for their relatives is to make an application to the Court of Protection in the same way as Mr Briggs’ family.

Adults wishing to make Lasting Powers of Attorney should seek legal advice to ensure the documents are professionally drawn-up. This will help to prevent any problems arising with the validity of the documents in the future and to ensure that their wishes respected.

The Official Solicitor, who acts for Mr Briggs, has asked for permission to appeal against the Court of Protection’s ruling. A decision on whether an appeal is allowed is expected early in the new year.

At Forbes Solicitors, our team of specialist solicitors can advise on Health and Welfare Lasting Powers of Attorney, as well as other types of Power of Attorney and applications to the Court of Protection.  For more information, please contact Lorraine Wilson in our Wills, Probate, Tax and Trusts Department on freephone 0800 975 2643 or send any question via our online contact form.

This entry was posted in Wills, Tax, Trusts and Probate.