Law Hospital NHS Trust v Lord Advocate and Another: IHCS 20 May 1996

The patient suffered from irreversible damage to the cerebral cortex and fell into a persistent vegetative state in 1992. Permanently insensate, she remained alive only because feeding and hydration were provided to her artificially and because of the nursing care she received in a hospital. Medical experts said her case was useless and that there were no useful avenues of treatment to explore. The patient was unable to consent to treatment ceasing and her family agreed with the experts that the treatment should stop. The hospital raised an action, concluding for declarator that the proposed course of terminating nutrition and hydration and all other life sustaining treatment to the patient would not be unlawful.
Held: Treatment of an insensate patient may be withdrawn where it was not in the patient’s interests. Lord Hope: ‘It may be helpful if I were to describe at the outset what I consider to be the function of the Court in a case of this kind. It belongs to a group of cases which have been recurring with increasing frequency in recent years where the courts are being asked to give their authority to actions to be taken by medical practitioners which raise acute questions of moral or ethical principle. Medical science has now advanced to such a degree that many techniques are now possible which only a generation ago would have been unthinkable. The ability to prolong life by artificial means has reached such a stage that it is possible to nourish the body and preserve it from disease so that life in the clinical sense may be continued indefinitely. Invasive techniques such as those of sterilisation are also possible without the slightest risk of any other physical injury than that which is to be inflicted deliberately. Where the patient is of full age and capable of understanding and consenting to the procedures which on medical advice are for his or her benefit, or decides to refuse medical treatment, the right of self determination provides the solution to all problems, at least so far as the court is concerned. It is not in doubt that a medical practitioner who acts or omits to act with the consent of his patient requires no sanction or other authority from the court. The patient’s consent renders lawful that which would otherwise be unlawful. It is not for the court to substitute its own views as to what may or may not be in the patient’s best interests for the decision of the patient, if of full age and capacity.’
The Lord President, Lord Hope
Times 20-May-1996, 1996 SC 301
Cited by:
CitedMcTear v Imperial Tobacco Ltd OHCS 31-May-2005
The pursuer sought damages after her husband’s death from lung cancer. She said that the defenders were negligent in having continued to sell him cigarettes knowing that they would cause this.
Held: The action failed. The plaintiff had not . .
CitedDavidson v Scottish Ministers HL 15-Dec-2005
The complainant a prisoner sought an order that he should not be kept in conditions found to be inhumane. He had been detained in Barlinnie priosn. The Crown replied that a mandatory order was not available against the Scottish Ministers.
CitedClarke 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 . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Updated: 20 October 2021; Ref: scu.82960