Do you have the right to refuse medical treatment?

There is a fundamental right in UK law to refuse lifesaving medical treatment as long as you do not lack the capacity make such a decision. This does seem simple enough, however other people may seek to demonstrate that you do not have the capacity to make such a decision. This could be a family member or indeed a hospital trust who wanted to provide treatment.

In these circumstances, your case would be heard by a judge at the court of Protection. The judge would be tasked with making the decision about your mental capacity to make these decisions.

Headline Case

Earlier this week, a case looking at this very issue hit the headlines. An NHS Trust went to the Court of Protection to ask whether they could make a 50 year old women have dialysis to help manage her damaged kidneys. The background to the story was that the woman, known as C had tried to commit suicide and had damaged her kidneys in the process. The woman’s fourth marriage had just broken down and she was in debt.

Her daughter gave evidence to the Court of Protection and commented that in blunt terms, her life revolved around her looks, men and material possessions and that she didn’t want to be poor or ugly which she equated with being old.

C’s other daughter said that her recovery did not just relate to the function of her kidneys, and therefore the treatment the NHS trust was seeking to force her to have, but to regaining her ‘sparkle’, which she feels she has lost and will not regain as she is too old.

The Outcome

The judge in the Court of Protection agreed that C had the mental capacity to decide to refuse treatment, and in fact died shortly after the judgment.

Whilst the circumstances in this case as quite unusual, the fact remains that whilst you have capacity, you can make this decision but what happens if you have an illness such as dementia where you will not always have capacity?

You could consider making an advance decision whilst you have capacity, which will give you the opportunity to list clearly in a legally binding document the decisions and treatment that you wish to receive or not receive as the case may be.

If you would like to know more about making an advance decision or your options around communicating your wishes, please call us today – we can help. You can call us on 0208 520 4555, email us on law@romcolelaw.co.uk or complete our Free Enquiry online and we’ll be in touch shortly.

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