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It is never lawful or ethical to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from patients with prolonged disorders of consciousness
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    Re: It is never lawful or ethical to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from patients with prolonged disorders of consciousness
    • Richard W K Brocklesby, Medical Student Imperial College London
    • Other Contributors:
      • Charlotte Caves, Medical Student
      • Emily Boother, Medical Student

    Abstract

    Foster considers that is it not ethically nor lawfully acceptable to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from patients with Permanent Disorder of Consciousness(1) (PDOC). Though we agree the proposition has strong grounds to be made, we conclude that stating this to be the case “under any circumstances” may be oversimplifying the issue. We look at the case of W v M 2011 where withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment was denied and compare it to the cases of Airedale NHS Trust v Bland 1993 and Briggs v Briggs 2016 in which it was deemed legal to withdraw life-sustaining treatment from PDOC patients on the grounds of best interests. We also discuss some points in which Beauchamp and Childress’s ethical principles regarding ‘non-maleficience’ and ‘respect for autonomy’ do not align with Foster’s view, such as advanced directives and treatment side effects.

    Withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment is unlawful

    Foster makes a strong argument regarding the ambiguity surrounding the issues of removing life-sustaining treatment. Cases such as W v M 2011(2) exemplify how this uncertainty has affected the legal stance on this issue. M had suffered from a non-traumatic brain injury resulting in a ‘minimally conscious state’ (MCS), with intermittent periods of awareness. Though M was still left with the ability to have joyful experiences, she also had to endure periods of significant pain. Previously, M had expressed her wishes to never be wholly dependent o...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.