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Court to determine who has right to withdraw life support

The importance of having a Lasting Power of Attorney for health and welfare has been brought to the fore by the death of a 52 year-old investment banker.

The family man had been left with severe brain damage after he suffered a heart attack in June last year.

His family all accepted that he would not want to live in a vegative state and would hate to be dependent on other people to take care of him. He had not signed a Lasting Power of Attorney or any other document giving instructions as to what should happen to him if he became incapacitated.

In an unusual turn of events, the patient’s official solicitor intervened and prevented medical staff from withdrawing end of life care.

The high court later ruled that in cases such as this, the court of protection did not need to be consulted if doctors and the patient’s family agreed that it was not in the best interests of the patient to continue with life support.

However, the official solicitor appealed this decision and brought a legal challenge that is now to be heard by the Supreme Court. Although the man has since died, this test case will determine whether judges need to authorise the withdrawal of life support treatment.

This is a dilemma many people face each year as families are forced to deal not only with the trauma of seeing a loved one being kept alive, they also have the added stress of going through costly and time-consuming end-of-life legal battles.

Katy Burgin, specialist wills and probate solicitor, said: “Having a Lasting Power of Attorney enables people you have nominated and trust to make decisions about your treatment if you have lost capacity to make those decisions for yourself.”

Author: Gail Harris