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Thursday, 21 September 2017

'Landmark' ruling could have implications in cases concerning terminally ill people

Written by Brian Farmer

A judge in a specialist court has made a landmark decision which will have implications for relatives of terminally ill people, lawyers say.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson ruled that a 50-year-old woman who had suffered from Huntington's disease for more than 20 years should be allowed to die after a hearing in the Court of Protection, where judges analyse issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves, in London.

The woman's daughter plus doctors caring for her all agreed that life support treatment should end.

And Mr Justice Jackson said in future judges should not be required to make rulings in similar cases - where relatives and doctors were in agreement and medical guidelines had been followed.

Mr Justice Jackson said he could understand why the woman's mother and doctors had asked for a ruling.

But he said, in a written ruling on the case published on Wednesday: "In my view it was not necessary as a matter of law for this case to have been brought to court."

Specialist lawyers at law firm Irwin Mitchell had represented the woman's mother.

They described Mr Justice Jackson's decision as a landmark.

"The case is significant as the law was previously unclear and the Official Solicitor, a government officer appointed to act for the patient in such cases, argued that every case where withdrawal of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration is requested should come before the court," said an Irwin Mitchell spokesman.

"The family and the NHS trust argued that permission from the court was not required where there was no dispute and the position was not clear.

"Submissions were made to the court about how it would be best to protect the patient's human rights.

"The family argued that major life and death decisions happen every day in hospital and do not always need to come before the court. NHS doctors supported this argument."

He added: "Mr Justice Peter Jackson has ruled that permission from the court is not always necessary."

Lawyer Caroline Barrett went on: "It is hoped that this judgment will significantly clarify the law in this area and ensure that those with terminal or life-limiting illnesses are treated with dignity and respect in the final stages of their lives."

Mr Justice Jackson had ruled that the woman should be allowed to die following a Court of Protection hearing in June.

He published a detailed written ruling on the case on Wednesday and said the woman had now died.

The woman's mother, a pensioner, had told the judge how she had suffered from Huntington's disease, an inherited condition which damages nerve cells in the brain, for more than 20 years and was showing no awareness.

The pensioner said medical evidence showed that her daughter was in the end stages of life - and said relatives and doctors agreed that life-support treatment should stop.

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