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Family Given Permission To Withdraw Treatment For Woman Who Suffered From Huntington’s Disease For Over 25 Years

Our specialist human rights lawyers have gained permission for life-prolonging treatment to be withdrawn for a woman who suffered from Huntington's disease for over 25 years. The ruling has marked a huge change in how cases of this type will be dealt with in future.

The patient, "M", had deteriorated to the point that she was completely unaware of the world around her. Her family said she would not have wanted to be kept alive in her condition. Doctors and family members agreed that it would be in her best interests for her treatment to be withdrawn.

Despite this agreement, M's family felt it best to get permission from the Court of Protection before proceeding. It had previously been unclear whether cases of this nature must be brought to the court.

M's mother asked our human rights lawyers to issue her daughter's case in the Court of Protection. Following their decision in this case, a landmark legal ruling has been made by Mr Justice Peter Jackson.

He has ruled that in this type of case it is not always necessary to get permission from the Court of Protection. If the patient's family and doctors are in agreement, and the decision meets the guidelines of the General Medical Council, British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians, then the withdrawal of treatment will be considered lawful.

If the family and doctors cannot reach an agreement, then the court will need to resolve the dispute.

Caroline Barrett, one of our public law and human rights specialists, said:

"We have acted for families across the country in cases concerning serious medical treatment issues or life and death decisions. 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.

"Our client had lived in hospital for over 20 years and her family and hospital staff provided dedicated care and support to her throughout her slow decline."

"Huntington's Disease is an extremely cruel disease and when her condition reached the point when she had no quality of life remaining, and appeared unaware of the world around her, her family felt that her feeding tube which was keeping her alive, should be withdrawn."

This was also one of the first cases concerning the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment where a family member was appointed as 'litigation friend' to act on behalf of the patient. In most cases, the Official Solicitor acts on behalf of the protected party in cases of serious medical treatment.

In this case, Mr Justice Jackson ruled that M's mother had her daughter's best interests at heart, and that allowing her to be a litigation friend would be in M's best interests.

Caroline Barrett said:

"The judge specifically said that just because the mother was asking for withdrawal of treatment, this did not make her an unsuitable litigation friend."

Our Public Law and Human Rights solicitors can help if you have been appointed by the Court of Protection to make decisions on behalf of someone else. See our Court of Protection page for more information.

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