When ‘Sanctity of Life’ and ‘Self-Determination’ clash: Briggs versus Briggs [2016] EWCOP 53 – implications for policy and practice

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Abstract

In a landmark judgment in the English Court of Protection, the judge (Charles J) found it to be in the best interests of a minimally conscious patient for clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) to be withdrawn, with the inevitable consequence that the patient would die. In making this judgment, it was accepted that the patient’s level of consciousness — if CANH were continued and rehabilitation provided — might improve, and that he might become capable of expressing emotions and making simple choices. The decision to withdraw treatment relied on a best interests decision, which gave great weight to the patient’s past wishes, feelings, values and beliefs, and brought a ‘holistic’ approach to understanding what this particular patient would have wanted. We draw on our own experience of supporting families, advocating for patients and training healthcare professionals in similar situations to consider the implications of the published judgment for policy and practice with patients in prolonged disorders of consciousness and their families.

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