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The best interests of persistently vegetative patients: to die rather that to live?
  1. Tak Kwong Chan,
  2. George Lim Tipoe
  1. Department of Anatomy, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tak Kwong Chan, Department of Anatomy, The University of Hong Kong, L1 59 Laboratory Block, 21 Sassoon Road, Pokfulam, Hong Kong, Hong Kong; theo{at}hku.hk

Abstract

Adults without the capacity to make their own medical decisions have their rights protected under the Mental Capacity Act (2005) in the UK. The underlying principle of the court's decisions is the best interests test, and the evaluation of best interests is a welfare appraisal. Although the House of Lords in the well-known case of Bland held that the decision to withhold treatment for patients in a persistent vegetative state should not be based on their best interests, judges in recent cases have still held that the best interests of persistently vegetative patients demand that the right to die with dignity prevails over society's interest to preserve life. The basis of suggesting that it is in the best interests for one who is alive (although vegetative) in peace to die in peace is weak. Even if it may not be in their best interests to live on, it may not be so to die either. The phrase ‘the right to dignity/to die with dignity’ has been misused as a trump card to justify the speculation that a vegetative patient would necessarily refuse to live on machines. Without disrespect to the court's decision, we argue that the use of the best interests test to authorise withdrawing/withholding treatment from persistently vegetative patients without an advance directive is problematic. We propose that the court could have reached the same decision by considering only the futility of treatment without working through the controversial best interests of the patient.

  • Legal Aspects
  • Mentally Diasbled Persons
  • Clinical Ethics

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