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Muslim family lose 'right-to-life' case

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An article published in The Guardian recently tells of a recent judgment delivered in the Court of Protection regarding a ‘right-to-life’ case.

The NHS Trust applied to the Court of Protection for a declaration that it would lawful for the man not to be resuscitated in the event of deterioration in his condition, allowing doctors to withhold treatment. The subject of the application, known as VT, is said to be a 72 year old ‘devout Muslim’. He has had limited consciousness after suffering for the last 10 years with a series of medical problems and the after effects of a stroke. VT is said to have been housebound during these years and has relied on support from his family to assist him with all aspects of his daily living.

Earlier in 2013, VT contracted pneumonia and subsequently suffered a cardiac arrest. The family are said to have been consulted about a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order that was placed on his notes following this incident.

Three expert witnesses were called, concluding that VT had sustained a very severe brain injury and as a result had ‘no prospect of any meaningful recovery’.

It was accepted that VT is suffering. The family’s view however was that it was in VT’s best interests for his suffering to continue as they believed it to be his wish to preserve his life at all costs. The view stemmed from a strong religious belief that he should have the chance to suffer in order to purify himself before death, bringing him closer to God.

Mr Justice Hayden, hearing the case in the Court of Protection in London, accepted that the family were representing VT’s wishes and stated that ‘his right to, if necessary, suffer for his faith, has not always been understood’ and went on to say that ‘in an increasingly secular society, it takes great courage to assert strong religious belief’.

Mr Justice Hayden did state that ‘VTs wishes and feelings are one of the most important factors’ however, this factor is not determinative. He also commented that ‘the priority will always be the patient’s physical welfare’.

In giving his judgment, he stated that intervention ‘would not be prolonging life, but would effectively be restarting a life which has stopped’. Mr Justice Hayden granted the application of the NHS Trust, making it lawful for the medical professionals to refrain from intervening with CPR/ intensive treatment should the time come.

In this heated moral and ethical dispute the Court favoured the views of the medical professionals that it would not be in VT’s best interests for them to intervene, despite the strong religious views of VT and his family members. The judgment is controversial in an increasingly diverse society with a variety of faiths and beliefs.

By Sophie Maloney, human rights law & civil liberties team

The Court of Protection is a specialist Court safeguarding the rights of those who lack mental capacity or are vulnerable in making decisions. If you require advice in respect of any issues which may require the Court of Protection to intervene, then our team is able to provide specialist legal advice, representation and guidance through this process.