Procedures on Withdrawal of Life Support Treatment
The patient had been severely injured in the Hillsborough disaster, and had come to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). The doctors sought permission to withdraw medical treatment. The Official Solicitor appealed against an order of the Court of Appeal permitting the action.
Held: The appeal failed. The practitioners sought to act in accordance with medical practice, but until the practice was universally accepted, applications should continue to be made to the Family Division. The issues should be considered urgently by Parliament. Any justification for invasive treatment no longer existed, and the doctors were correct to seek to discontinue treatment. The patient could himself no longer choose. It would not be unlawful to cease to provide the treatment which it had previously been a duty to perform.
Lord Goff said: ‘I must however stress, at this point, that the law draws a crucial distinction between cases in which a doctor decides not to provide, or to continue to provide, for his patient treatment or care which could or might prolong his life, and those in which he decides, for example by administering a lethal drug, actively to bring his patient’s life to an end. As I have already indicated, the former may be lawful, either because the doctor is giving effect to his patient’s wishes by withholding treatment or care, or even in certain circumstances in which (on principles which I shall describe) the patient is incapacitated from stating whether or not he gives his consent. But it is not lawful for a doctor to administer a drug to his patient to bring about his death, even though that course is prompted by a humanitarian desire to end his suffering, however great that suffering may be: see Reg v Cox (unreported), 18 September 1992. So to act is to cross the Rubicon which runs between on the one hand the care of the living patient and on the other hand euthanasia – actively causing his death to avoid or to end his suffering. Euthanasia is not lawful at common law. It is of course well known that there are many responsible members of our society who believe that euthanasia should be made lawful; but that result could, I believe only be achieved by legislation which expresses the democratic will that so fundamental a change should be made in our law, and can, if enacted, ensure that such legalised killing can only be carried out subject to appropriate supervision and control. It is true that the drawing of this distinction may lead to a charge of hypocrisy; because it can be asked why, if the doctor, by discontinuing treatment, is entitled in consequence to let his patient die, it should not be lawful to put him out of his misery straight away, in a more humane manner, by lethal injection, rather than let him linger on in pain until he dies. But the law does not feel able to authorise euthanasia, even in circumstances such as these; for once euthanasia is recognised as lawful in these circumstances, it is difficult to see any logical basis for excluding it in others. ‘
Lord Goff also said: ‘the principle of self-determination requires that respect must be given to the wishes of the patient, so that if an adult patient of sound mind refuses, however unreasonably, to consent to treatment or care by which his life would or might be prolonged, the doctors responsible for his care must give effect to his wishes, even though they do not consider it to be in his best interests to do so.’
Lord Browne-Wilkinson said: ‘. . the correct answer to the present case depends upon the extent of the right to continue lawfully to invade the bodily integrity of Anthony Bland without his consent. If in the circumstances they have no right to continue artificial feeding, they cannot be in breach of any duty by ceasing to provide such feeding.’
Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Lowry, Lord Browne-Wilkinson and Lord Mustill
 AC 789,  2 WLR 316,  UKHL 17,  UKHL 5
lip, Bailii, Bailii
England and Wales
Cited – Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee QBD 1957
Professional to use Skilled Persons Ordinary Care
Negligence was alleged against a doctor.
Held: McNair J directed the jury: ‘Where some special skill is exercised, the test for negligence is not the test of the man on the Clapham omnibus, because he has not got this special skill. The test . .
Cited – In re F (Mental Patient: Sterilisation) HL 4-May-1989
Where a patient lacks capacity, there is the power to provide him with whatever treatment or care is necessary in his own best interests. Medical treatment can be undertaken in an emergency even if, through a lack of capacity, no consent had been . .
Cited – Finlayson v HM Advocate 1978
Cited – Imperial Tobacco Ltd v Attorney-General HL 1980
The applicant sought a declaration as to the lawfulness of a lottery scheme whilst criminal proceedings were pending against it for the same scheme.
Held: It was not necessary to decide whether a declaration as to the criminality or otherwise . .
Cited – In re J (a Minor) (Wardship: Medical treatment) CA 1-Oct-1990
J was born at 27 weeks’, weighing only 1.1kg. He suffered very severe and permanent brain damage at the time of his birth, the brain tissue then lost being irreplaceable. He was epileptic and the medical evidence was that he was likely to develop . .
Cited – Regina v Adams 8-Apr-1957
Cited – Regina v Blaue CACD 1975
The accused stabbed a Jehovah’s witness who subsequently refused a blood transfusion and died.
Held: The rule that the accused took his victim as he found her applied not only to physical characteristics, but also to her beliefs. . .
Cited – Regina v Brown etc CACD 15-Apr-1992
The defendants appealed against their convictions for offences under the 1861 Act of assaults inflicting injury. They said that as sado-masochists, they had mutually consented to the assaults and that no offences had been commited, but pleaded gulty . .
Cited – Regina v Cox 18-Sep-1992
Whether the questioning of a suspect in a police station amounted to an interview was a question of fact dependant upon all the circumstances, including the rest, arrival at the police station, caution, the notification of rights, and the nature of . .
Cited – Regina v Malcherek and Steel CACD 1981
The defendants appealed against their convictions for murder. They had severely assaulted the victim who later in hospital had ventilator support withdrawn. They asserted that the proximate cause of the death was that act, not theirs.
Held: . .
Cited – Regina v Stone and Dobinson CACD 1977
The male defendant, Stone, and his mentally disabled son lived in Stone’s house with the female defendant, Dobinson. Stone’s sister came to live as a lodger. She neglected herself to such an extent that she became helplessly infirm. Fanny refused to . .
Cited – Rex v Gibbins and Proctor CCA 1918
Wretched parents were accused of murder after their children starved to death. The court was asked whether they should be tried together: ‘The rule is, that it is a matter for the discretion of the judge at the trial whether two people jointly . .
Cited – Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom v Department of Health and Social Security HL 2-Jan-1981
The court was asked whether nurses could properly involve themselves in a pregnancy termination procedure not known when the Act was passed, and in particular, whether a pregnancy was ‘terminated by a medical practitioner’, when it was carried out . .
Cited – Sidaway v Board of Governors of the Bethlem Royal Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital HL 21-Feb-1985
The plaintiff alleged negligence in the failure by a surgeon to disclose or explain to her the risks inherent in the operation which he had advised.
Held: The appeal failed. A mentally competent patient has an absolute right to refuse to . .
Cited – In re T (Adult: Refusal of Treatment) CA 1992
A patient’s right to veto medical treatment is absolute: ‘This right of choice is not limited to decisions which others might regard as sensible. It exists notwithstanding that the reasons for making the choice are rational, irrational, unknown or . .
At CA – Airedale NHS Trust v Bland CA 9-Dec-1992
The official Solicitor appealed against a decision that doctors could withdraw medical treatment including artificial nutrition, from a patient in persistent vegetative state.
Held: The doctors sought permission to act in accordance with . .
Cited – Regina v Arthur 5-Nov-1981
At FD – Airedale NHS Trust v Bland FD 19-Nov-1992
The patient had suffered catastrophic injuries in 1989, leaving him in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). The doctors sought leave to discontinue life maintaining treatment and medical support. The inevitable result would be his death. The . .
Cited – Regina (on the Application of Pretty) v Director of Public Prosecutions and Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 29-Nov-2001
The applicant was terminally ill, and entirely dependent upon her husband for care. She foresaw a time when she would wish to take her own life, but would not be able to do so without the active assistance of her husband. She sought a proleptic . .
Cited – Pretty v The United Kingdom ECHR 29-Apr-2002
Right to Life Did Not include Right to Death
The applicant was paralysed and suffered a degenerative condition. She wanted her husband to be allowed to assist her suicide by accompanying her to Switzerland. English law would not excuse such behaviour. She argued that the right to die is not . .
Cited – Regina v Her Majesty’s Attorney General ex parte Rusbridger and Another HL 26-Jun-2003
Limit to Declaratory Refilef as to Future Acts
The applicant newspaper editor wanted to campaign for a republican government. Articles were published, and he sought confirmation that he would not be prosecuted under the Act, in the light of the 1998 Act.
Held: Declaratory relief as to the . .
Cited – An NHS Trust v D (Medical Treatment: Consent: Termination) FD 28-Nov-2003
The defendant had been admitted to hospital under the 1983 Act and found to be pregnant. The doctors sought an order permitting an abortion. An order had been made, but the parties invited the court to say whether a court order was required at all. . .
Cited – An Hospital NHS Trust v S (By her Litigation Friend the Official Solicitor) And DG (S’s Father) and SG (S’s Mother) FD 6-Mar-2003
The hospital sought a declaration that it had no obligation to provide a kidney transplant to an eighteen year old youth who had had very severe disabilities since birth. It was argued that his mental condition meant that he would be unable to cope . .
Cited – Regina (Burke) v General Medical Council Admn 30-Jul-2004
The applicant, suffering a life threatening disease, wanted to ensure his continued treatment and revival in the circumstance of losing his own capacity. He said the respondent’s guidelines for doctors were discriminatory and failed to protect his . .
Cited – In Re A (Minors) (Conjoined Twins: Medical Treatment); aka In re A (Children) (Conjoined Twins: Surgical Separation) CA 22-Sep-2000
Twins were conjoined (Siamese). Medically, both could not survive, and one was dependent upon the vital organs of the other. Doctors applied for permission to separate the twins which would be followed by the inevitable death of one of them. The . .
Cited – In Re Z (Local Authority: Duty) FD 3-Dec-2004
Mrs Z suffered a terminal disease, and sought to travel to Switzerland supported and assisted by her husband, so that she could terminate her life. She appealed an injunction obtained by the authority to prevent her leaving.
Held: The . .
Cited – Regina (Smeaton) v Secretary of State for Health and Others Admn 18-Apr-2002
The claimant challenged the Order as regards the prescription of the morning-after pill, asserting that the pill would cause miscarriages, and that therefore the use would be an offence under the 1861 Act.
Held: ‘SPUC’s case is that any . .
Cited – Burke, Regina (on the Application of) v General Medical Council and others (Official Solicitor and others intervening) CA 28-Jul-2005
The claimant suffered a congenital degenerative brain condition inevitably resulting in a future need to receive nutrition and hydration by artificial means. He was concerned that a decision might be taken by medical practitioners responsible for . .
Cited – Wyatt and Another v Portsmouth Hospital NHS and Another CA 12-Oct-2005
The appellants’ daughter had been born with very severe disabilities. Her doctors obtained an order allowing them a discretion not to ventilate her to keep her alive if necessary. She had improved, but the family now sought leave to appeal an order . .
Cited – Clarke v Fennoscandia Ltd and others (Scotland) HL 12-Dec-2007
After being awarded costs in proceedings in the US, the defendants chased the claimant for their costs in Scotland. He sought an interdict saying that the judgment had been obtained by fraud. The defendant had give an undertaking not to pursue the . .
Cited – Yearworth and others v North Bristol NHS Trust CA 4-Feb-2009
The defendant hospital had custody of sperm samples given by the claimants in the course of fertility treatment. The samples were effectively destroyed when the fridge malfunctioned. Each claimant was undergoing chemotherapy which would prevent them . .
Cited – Purdy, Regina (on the Application of) v Director of Public Prosecutions and others CA 19-Feb-2009
The claimant suffered a debilitating terminal disease. She anticipated going to commit suicide at a clinic in Switzerland, and wanted first a clear policy so that her husband who might accompany her would know whether he might be prosecuted under . .
Cited – Nicklinson v Ministry of Justice and Others QBD 12-Mar-2012
The claimant suffered locked-in syndrome and sought relief in a form which would allow others to assist him in committing suicide. The court considered whether the case should be allowed to proceed rather than to be struck out as hopeless.
Cited – Oliver v Symons CA 15-Mar-2012
The parties disputed the extent of a right of way, the claimant appealing against the rejection of his claim for ‘swing space’ alongside the right of way.
Held: The appeal failed. Elias LJ said that the ‘argument for swing space fails. That is . .
Cited – A NHS Foundation Trust v Ms X (By Her Litigation Friend, The Official Solicitor) CoP 8-Oct-2014
X suffered both severe anorexia and alcoholism. She had in the past been repeatedly and compulsorily admitted to hospital for treatment, but her doctors considered that whilst this might be life extending treatment it had proved ineffective and . .
Cited – Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust v James SC 30-Oct-2013
The hospital where a gravely ill man had been treated had asked for a declaration that it would be in his best interests to withhold certain life-sustaining treatments from him. When can it be in the best interests of a living patient to withhold . .
Cited – Montgomery v Lanarkshire Health Board SC 11-Mar-2015
Change in Doctors’ Information Obligations
The pursuer claimed that her obstetrician had been negligent, after her son suffered severe injury at birth. The baby faced a birth with shoulder dystocia – the inability of the shoulders to pass through the pelvis. The consultant considered that a . .
Cited – Nicklinson and Another, Regina (on The Application of) SC 25-Jun-2014
Criminality of Assisting Suicide not Infringing
The court was asked: ‘whether the present state of the law of England and Wales relating to assisting suicide infringes the European Convention on Human Rights, and whether the code published by the Director of Public Prosecutions relating to . .
Cited – An NHS Trust and Others v Y and Another SC 30-Jul-2018
The court was asked whether a court order must always be obtained before clinically assisted nutrition and hydration, which is keeping alive a person with a prolonged disorder of consciousness, can be withdrawn, or whether, in some circumstances, . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 19 August 2021; Ref: scu.174705