In a case that is sure to spark concerns about health care rationing and euthanasia both in the United Kingdom and the United States, Britain’s highest court has ruled that a hospital can withhold treatment from a terminally ill patient.
The hospital is allowed to do this despite the wishes of the patient’s family.
In a unanimous judgment handed down on Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeal was correct in allowing Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool to withhold treatment from David James, 68, who suffered colon cancer, organ failure and a stroke, among other problems.
James’ doctors estimated he had a 1 percent chance of survival and applied to the Court of Protection for a legal declaration allowing it to discontinue some types of treatment, like restarting his heart if it stopped and a kidney replacement therapy. The court rejected the application on Dec. 6, but 15 days later the Court of Appeal reversed the decision. By that time, James’ condition had worsened, and he died on Dec. 31.
James’ family argued that his care should have continued.
The Supreme Court judges concluded that where treatment is futile, “it would be in the best interests of the patient to withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment,” even if this results in the patient’s death.
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James’ family said they believed he would have wanted to continue being treated and that he had not reached the point where treatment was hopeless.
Interestingly, the AP article doesn’t quote any members of James’ family concerning his medical care and situation or their desire to keep treatment despite the hospital’s wishes. With government-run health care, treatment options increasingly are taken out of the hands of patients and families and put in the hands of hospitals and courts.