The incredibly sad case of M has provoked much comment. M is a woman who suffered a brain virus eight years ago at the age of 43, which left her with irreparable brain damage. She is now in a minimally conscious state – whilst she has some limited awareness of herself and her environment she is not fully conscious, and she does not have the capacity to make decisions. M’s family applied to the Court of Protection to ask that her artificial hydration and nutrition (ANH) be removed. They believe that M would not want to live as she does now.
This case is ground-breaking – it is the first time an application has been made to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from a person in a minimally conscious state. Since the Bland ruling in 1993, it has been possible to withdraw ANH from a patient from in persistent vegetative state through an application to the courts. But, unlike M, a person in a persistent vegetative state exhibits no signs of consciousness at all.
Earlier this week it was announced that the Court had ruled against M’s family’s application. Many will be shocked that M’s family’s strong belief that she would not want to continue living as she does now, was not upheld by the court. In his judgement Mr Justice Baker explained:
“M did not make any formal advance decision that she wanted artificial nutrition and hydration to be withdrawn in the circumstances that now exist. Had she done so? the court would have abided by that advance decision? In this case, the various statements made by M prior to her illness in 2003 were informal, and not specifically addressed to the question I have to decide. Accordingly, whilst I take those statements into account, they are not binding and in all the circumstances I do not consider they carry substantial weight….”
Whether or not you feel the right decision was made, the media reporting on this case is likely to have made you think about what you would want if you were in a similar situation. If you have strong feelings about the medical treatment you would want if you were unable to make decisions for yourself, it is vital to make an Advance Decision setting out your medical treatment preferences, or give a trusted person as Lasting Power of Attorney to make health decisions for you – otherwise, it will a be judge or doctors who make the decisions about your treatment.
Compassion in Dying provides free Advance Decisions. For more information on your rights for medical treatment contact Compassion in Dying on 0800 999 2434.