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Landmark Legal Decision Allows A Dignified End For Woman With Multiple Sclerosis

Our Public Law Solicitors have helped to push through a landmark legal decision to allow doctors to withdraw treatment for a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis.

The 68 year old, known as N for legal reasons, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1991. Initially, the onset of the disease was slow, but N found the diagnosis difficult to deal with and her behaviour became challenging and unpredictable.

Six years after the diagnosis, N’s life had changed ‘beyond recognition’. For the last eight years of her life, she was fed through a tube as her condition became worse, leaving her in a ‘minimally conscious state’.

N’s family said that this treatment was prolonging an existence without any dignity or quality of life, and that it would be against her wishes to continue with it. Her daughter said in court: “My mum's immaculate appearance, the importance she placed on maintaining her dignity and how she lived her life to its fullest is what formed her belief system; it's what she lived for.

"All of that is gone now and very sadly my mum has suffered profound humiliation and indignity for so many years.

"I cannot emphasise enough how much the indignity of her current existence is the greatest contradiction to how she thrived on life and, had she been able to express this, then without a doubt she would."

N's family got in touch with our Public Law & Human Rights solicitors to see if we could help. We placed N's case before the Court of Protection, which deals with complex end of life cases. As N no longer had capacity to represent herself in court, the Official Solicitor acted on her behalf.

He stated that, after speaking to medical professionals and N’s family, he was certain that withdrawal of treatment would be in N’s best interests.

Mr Justice Hayden ruled that treatment for N could now be stopped, and that medical professionals would make arrangements in line with national guidelines.

Mathieu Culverhouse, a specialist Court of Protection lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing the woman’s daughter said:

"There are no winners or losers in sensitive and emotional cases like this. While this is clearly distressing for N’s daughter, she is relieved that the court has been able to review and examine the expert medical evidence available and hear detailed legal argument before making a decision which will now end her mother’s suffering and indignity."

This landmark decision is the first time that the Court of Protection has agreed to withdraw treatment from someone receiving life sustaining treatment while considered by medical experts to be in a ‘minimally conscious state’. However, all cases of this kind are decided on their own facts and Judges will always examine the all the evidence presented to them, including that presented by the patient’s family affected, on an individual basis.”

If you or someone you love needs help looking after their affairs, our Court of Protection lawyers may be able to help. Visit our Court of Protection section for more information.

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