The Court of Protection has authorised the withdrawal of treatment for a patient in a minimally conscious state, in a ground breaking case.

Mrs N was a 68 year old woman with advanced Multiple Sclerosis (MS), who did not have capacity to make decisions about medical treatment for herself. In M and Mrs N v Bury Clinical Commissioning Group [2015] EWCOP 76 the court was asked by Mrs N’s daughter to allow doctors to stop providing treatment after she felt it was against her mother’s wishes.

Mrs N’s condition had deteriorated to such an extent that she was unable to communicate and showed no sign of interaction with stimulus.

The case considered whether it was in Mrs N’s best interests to continue to receive the medical treatment to keep her alive, this specific treatment is known as clinically assisted artificial nutrition and hydration (CANH), which is administered by way of an endoscopic tube. This case raised a variety of moral questions including whether it can ever be justified to deliberately deprive a human being of food and water in order to end their life, although they are clinically stable, albeit in a vegetative state.

The case was respectfully and sensitively considered by Mr Justice Hayden in the Court of Protection at the Royal Court of Justice in London, who told of his instinct to protect the privacy and dignity of not only Mrs N but also her family. “In my view the choice which the law makes must reassure people that the courts do have full respect for life, but that they do not pursue the principle to the point at which it has become almost empty of any real content and when it involves the sacrifice of other important values such as human dignity and freedom of choice.”

This case did not concern the right to die, but the right to live your life at the end of your days, in the way you would wish. The case was heard over four days in November 2015 and evidence was given by Mrs N’s family and professional medical experts. Mrs N’s family believe that Mrs N would have discontinued treatment some time ago had she been able to and it would not have been in her proud nature to allow herself or others to suffer.

The Official Solicitor representing Mrs N initially opposed the idea that the nutrition should be stopped but after hearing the family evidence, he changed his view and no longer argued for this.

Previous CANH withdrawal cases have favoured the preservation of life. However, on the 19 November 2015, MrJustice Hayden considered that respect for Mrs. N’s dignity and human freedom overwhelmed further prolongation and ruled in private that the treatment Mrs N is receiving could be stopped. This case represents the first time that the Court has authorised the withdrawal of a life prolonging measure of an incapable person, putting the autonomy of the patient at the forefront of legal decision making.

Conroys are experienced in dealing with mental capacity issues including those relating to medical treatment. Please contact us on 01872 272457 for advice or representation.