The UK Court of Protection has clarified that decisions to withdraw life support treatment to patients in Permanent Vegetative State (PVS) or Minimally Conscious State (MCS) need not always be taken with judicial approval. It was held that if the decision was taken on agreement between doctors and family members in accordance with the professional guidelines, Court intervention was not a mandatory requirement. Among the reasons:
- Treatment decisions up to and including the withholding and withdrawal of life-support are taken by clinicians and families working together in accordance with recognised good practice. All such decision cannot be subject of external supervision;
- The decisions involving withdrawal of life supporting system are not so different from other serious medical treatment decisions to justify a different approach;
- Cost and time of litigation process is a deterrent to the best interests of the patient. The Court cited the case at hand as an example where the patient had to be in life support for one year awaiting judicial decisions, despite the fact that family and doctors firmly held that continuation of treatment was not in her best interest; and
- The grave consequence and risk of error in an advance decision on agreement by family and doctors, and the decision rendered by the court are not so different.
This judgement could be of some significance to us. In the absence of any law on the subject in the country, we understand that a British court’s decision may carry some influence over the decisions of the judiciary in India, while deciding future cases including review petitions, if any.