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Withdrawing and withholding artificial nutrition and hydration from patients in a minimally conscious state: Re: M and its repercussions
  1. Julian C Sheather
  1. Correspondence to Dr Julian C Sheather, Ethics Department, British Medical Association, London WC1H 9JP, UK; jsheather{at}bma.org.uk

Abstract

In 2011 the English Court of Protection ruled that it would be unlawful to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration from a woman, M, who had been in a minimally conscious state for 8 years. It was reported as the first English legal case concerning withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration from a patient in a minimally conscious state who was otherwise stable. In the absence of a valid and applicable advance decision refusing treatment, of other life-limiting pathology or excessively burdensome suffering, the judgement makes it clear that the obligation on health professionals falls strongly in favour of preserving life. Although the Court sought to limit the judgement as closely as possible to the facts of the case, it is likely to have a significant impact on life-sustaining treatment decisions for people in states of low awareness. This paper outlines the main legal features of the judgement.

  • Medical ethics
  • mental health legislation
  • mental health
  • mental capacity
  • decision-making capacity

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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