Judge Agrees Man Would Not Have Wanted To Live In Minimally Conscious State For Years
A High Court judge sitting in the Court of Protection has agreed that medical treatment can lawfully be withdrawn from a British army veteran and police officer who has been in hospital for well over a year, after his family said he should be able to end his life with dignity as that is what he would have wanted.
Paul Briggs, 43, suffered a severe brain injury in a motorcycle crash while working as a police officer in Merseyside in July last year. He has been in a minimally conscious state in hospital for 17 months.
Mr Briggs is a veteran of the Gulf War and has been a dedicated police officer who lived an active life. His family strongly believe he would not have wanted to carry on being provided with medical treatment in his current condition.
Now today (20 December 2016) Mr Justice Charles sitting in the Court of Protection has agreed that it is not in Mr Brigg’s best interests for treatment to continue, and that it is lawful for treatment to be withdrawn and for Mr Briggs to be moved to a hospice to be given palliative care in his final few weeks.
However, the lawyers acting for Mr Briggs through the government appointed Office of the Official Solicitor have since requested permission to appeal against the decision, which means the status quo in terms of Mr Briggs’ treatment is likely to be preserved until the New Year, when a decision will be made as to whether the appeal can go ahead.
Mr Briggs’ wife Lindsey said: “The court case was the hardest thing we have ever had to do but we did it for Paul, to honour his wishes. We are grateful that Mr Justice Charles has shown compassion towards Paul, has respected his wishes and values and has understood what Paul would have wanted. He has been able to place himself in Paul's situation, and for that we will be forever thankful. We are glad we have had the opportunity to give evidence about Paul to the Court. It was an honour. We are therefore hugely disappointed that the decision is to be appealed and that we will be put through yet more heartache.
“The past 18 months have been extremely distressing and traumatic. All our lives have been turned upside down. We have been living in darkness and despair - from when Paul had the crash in the first place, through all the uncertainty, having to watch him suffer and be in pain, and all the endless procedures and complications. Paul has been artificially kept alive by medical intervention from the outset.
“Paul was such a selfless, kind and charitable person. He dedicated his career and his life to serving others and protecting the public with commitment, vigour and sheer enthusiasm, both on and off duty. We know that he would have wanted us to pursue this case for him.
“When we were first notified of Mr Justice Charles' decision that it was not in Paul's best interests for his life sustaining treatment to be continued, we were relieved for Paul. We accepted this decision and began to come to terms that Paul would finally be free from pain and suffering and that we could find peace at Christmas-time knowing this.
“We are therefore dismayed to learn that the decision may be appealed. We feel overwhelming despair and sorrow, but we know we have to try to somehow cope and continue for Paul. Given this continued uncertainty, Christmas will now not be a peaceful occasion for us.
“We wish to thank Mathieu Culverhouse, solicitor at Irwin Mitchell; Victoria Butler-Cole, barrister; and Jakki Cowley, advocate for representing Paul and for their expertise in guiding the family through the court process. We also thank all those who have supported Paul and the family and for their kindness and empathy.“
Expert Opinion“The time since Paul’s collision has been extremely difficult for Lindsey and Paul’s family and from the outset they have wanted to ensure that his wishes are respected. They firmly believe that continuing treatment is not in Paul’s best interests given his previously expressed wishes, his injuries and his current condition and prognosis.
“After considering all of the evidence, hearing from medical experts and the clear and powerful evidence from the family, the judge agreed that treatment could lawfully be withdrawn. The judge made this decision after taking into account recent guidance from the Supreme Court. He weighed up the competing principles of the very strong presumption in favour of preserving life and the need to respect what Mr Briggs himself would have decided if he was able to do so.
“In his judgment, the judge stated: “I am sure that if Mr Briggs had been sitting in my chair and heard all the evidence and argument he would … not have consented to further … treatment”. The judge concluded by saying that “this means that the court is doing on behalf of Mr Briggs what he would have wanted and what he would have done for himself … if he was able to do so.”
“The family is disappointed that the decision is to be appealed, which will prolong their situation at such a difficult time of year.
“The next few weeks will obviously be very difficult for Lindsey and the family and we will continue to support them at this sensitive time. They can at least have some comfort in knowing that the Court at this stage has agreed that this course of action is in Mr Briggs’ best interests. We will now await the Court’s decision on whether permission to appeal will be granted.” Mathieu Culverhouse - Partner
As a result of his motorcycle crash Mr Briggs suffered serious brain and multiple other serious injuries and was rendered unconscious. He is now in a minimally conscious state and does not have the mental capacity to make decisions relating to his care and treatment or to communicate his wishes and feelings to others.
It is believed he could live for up to nine years with treatment keeping him alive in his current minimally conscious state. Specialist and expert assessments have been carried out to determine his condition.
Mr Briggs’ wife Lindsey, from Merseyside, along with other family and friends, gave evidence that, given his current condition and long term prognosis, Mr Briggs would have wanted medical treatment to be withdrawn so that he could pass away with dignity.
As Mr Briggs had not made any advance decision in writing about what should happen in these circumstances the Court of Protection was asked to make a decision after hearing from medical experts as well as his family and a police colleague. A four-day hearing took place in the Court of Protection at the end of November 2016 with the judgment handed down today (20 December 2016).
The family has also received help from advocacy organisation Empowerment Matters which helps support families through difficult decisions and to engage with healthcare providers prior to approaching the court for a final decision.
People involved in Court of Protection hearings are usually kept anonymous because of their vulnerability, but because this case has previously been widely reported there are no reporting restrictions in place.
The court judgement stretches to over 70 pages, gives detailed reasoning and sets out the relevant law and evidence heard.
If you or someone you love needs help looking after their affairs our court of protection lawyers can help. Visit our Court of Protection section for more information.