Family judges watch over citizens’ rights from the cradle to the grave, but perhaps the saddest role they have to perform is to decide when life is no longer worth living.
The woman, aged in her 50s, had been kept alive by clinically assisted nutrition and hydration for two and a half years since her heart attack. Cared for in a nursing home, she showed no awareness of her surroundings. There was no prospect that she would regain the capacity to make decisions for herself and her family and friends were unanimous in saying that she would not have wanted to live like this.
The judge found that only her body was being kept alive by medical intervention and that her personality had ceased to exist, never to return. She derived no benefit from living, save insofar as being alive is itself a benefit. There was evidence that she had expressed the view before her heart attack that she would not wish to continue living in such a situation.
The Court found that, if she were capable of expressing an opinion, she would prefer life-sustaining, but ultimately futile, treatment to be withdrawn. She would not have wished to be a burden on her loved ones and would have found her current situation intolerable. In the circumstances, the Court granted the woman’s local NHS body permission to withdraw life-sustaining treatment. She would continue to receive palliative care but was expected to die within two weeks.