Ethics briefing – December 2021

Journal of Medical Ethics 48 (2):150-152 (2022)

Abstract

In a recent judgment1 the Court of Protection was highly critical of health professionals for continuing to provide clinically-assisted nutrition and hydration in the face of disagreement about the patient’s best interests, without seeking to resolve the issue. This hearing had been set up specifically to consider whether GU’s dignity had been properly protected, and if not why not, given concerns raised by the Official Solicitor about what she considered to be “a complete abrogation of responsibility to consider properly or at all, and to determine whether it was in GU’s best interests and therefore lawful to continue to give him an invasive medical treatment, CANH.” In April 2014, at 63 years old and living in Thailand, GU sustained severe injuries after suffering from an electrocution accident. He sustained a cardiorespiratory arrest with a significant delay before cardiopulmonary resuscitation was started and was unconscious and unresponsive. In September 2014 he was transferred to the UK. In August 2018, GU’s brother made a request for a best interests decision concerning the continuation of CANH. The family met to discuss this and all except GU’s son, agreed that continuing CANH was not in GU’s best interests. In view of the fact that there was not unanimity among the family, a decision was made that CANH should continue. Commenting on this decision, Mr Justice Hayden said ‘the apparent assumption that in the face of family disagreement ‘ therefore will continue to be cared for by nursing staff ” is a troubling non sequitur’ and stressed that ‘family dissent to a medical consensus should never stand in the way of an incapacitated patients’ best interests being properly identified’. He also made clear that the responsibility for ensuring that a best interests assessment is undertaken rests with the …

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