Diane Vincent
Chartered Legal Executive
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Date Published:11 Mar 2016 Last Updated:23 Jul 2021

Should we have the right to refuse life-saving treatment because of the fear of becoming old and ugly?

Wills, Trusts & Probate

This is the question a Court of Protection Judge had to consider recently when a 50 year old mother of three refused life-saving kidney treatment.

The case was heard in the Court of Protection, in London. This Court has jurisdiction over the personal welfare and property and financial affairs of people who are unable to make decisions for themselves due to a lack of mental capacity.

Judge Mr. Justice MacDonald made the point that, although many people would be horrified by the woman’s decision and it did not accord with the expectations of many in society, the fact that she still retained her mental capacity meant that she had the right to refuse the treatment. This was despite King’s College Hospital NHS Trust considering that it was in her best interests if treatment was imposed even if this meant that restraint and sedation were used in providing this treatment.

The hospital had been providing her care and a spokesman said that it was in the woman’s best interests to receive the treatment and, in complex cases such as this, it was right that they should seek a decision from the Court of Protection.

The history of the case was that the woman’s organs had been damaged due to a previous attempt to end her own life when she took an overdose. Prior to this attempt she had had suffered failed marriages and experienced financial difficulties and also been diagnosed with breast cancer.

The Judge heard evidence from psychiatrists, medical professionals and one of the woman’s daughters and it was clear that the daughters loved their Mother very much and would be devastated if she died. The family didn’t like the woman‘s decision but the fact remained that she still retained the mental capacity to make the decision to refuse life-saving kidney treatment.

The Court heard that the woman placed great value on wealth and possessions telling her daughter that she did not want to live in a council flat or be poor, having suffered a recent downturn in her finances. The prospect of growing old, the fear of living with fewer material possessions and not regaining “her sparkle” was something which she did not want to consider.

Considering all the circumstances of the case the Judge ruled that the Court had no jurisdiction to interfere in this particular case.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is an Act of Parliament and has five statutory principles as outlined in Section 1 of the Act. Basically a person must be assumed to have sufficient capacity unless it is established that he/she lacks capacity. As in the case above, despite the decision of the woman refusing life-sustaining treatment being heart-breaking for her family, contrary to the views of the hospital and considered by many to be unwise or immoral, she was entitled to make her own decision as to whether or not to accept treatment. This was her right and, whilst retaining her mental capacity, she was perfectly entitled to make this decision.

To find out how our specialist Court of Protection solicitors in Poole, Bournemouth, Ringwood, Swanage and London can help you, contact us at email@ellisjones.co.uk. For further guidance please visit https://www.gov.uk/courts-tribunals/court-of-protection.