Ethics in UK Law

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Leading Cases
  • Airedale NHS Trust v Bland
    • House of Lords
    • 04 Feb 1993

    First, it is established that the principle of self-determination requires that respect must be given to the wishes of the patient, so that if an adult patient of sound mind refuses, however unreasonably, to consent to treatment or care by which his life would or might be prolonged, the doctors responsible for his care must give effect to his wishes, even though they do not consider it to be in his best interests to do so (see Schloendorff v. Society of New York Hospital 105 N.E. 92, 93, per Cardozo J. (1914); S. v. McC. (Orse S.) and M (D.S. Intervener); W v. W [1972] A.C. 24, 43, per Lord Reid; and Sidaway v. Board of Governors of the Bethlem Royal Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital [1985] A.C. 871, 882, per Lord Scarman).

    The doctor who is caring for such a patient cannot, in my opinion, be under an absolute obligation to prolong his life by any means available to him, regardless of the quality of the patient's life. As I see it, the doctor's decision whether or not to take any such step must (subject to his patient's ability to give or withhold his consent) be made in the best interests of the patient.

    The question is whether the doctor should or should not continue to provide his patient with medical treatment or care which, if continued, will prolong his patient's life. This is because the question is not whether it is in the best interests of the patient that he should die. The question is whether it is in the best interests of the patient that his life should be prolonged by the continuance of this form of medical treatment or care.

    I also feel that those who are concerned that a matter of life and death, such as is involved in a decision to withhold life support in case of this kind, should be left to the doctors, would do well to study this paper. This is a topic to which I will return at the end of this opinion, when I come to consider the extent to which the view of the court should be sought, as a matter of practice, in cases such as the present.

    Before the Appellate Committee, this view was supported both by Mr Munby, for the Official Solicitor, and by Mr Lester, as amicus curiae.

    A practical alternative may, however, be evolved through the practice of the Family Division and with the help of the Medical Ethics Committee, which has already devoted so much thought to the problem, and possibly of Parliament through legislation, it will of course be understood that the court has no power to render lawful something which without the court's sanction would have been unlawful.

  • Airedale NHS Trust v Bland
    • Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
    • 09 Dic 1992

    A patient in this condition requires very skilled nursing and close medical attention if he is to survive. The Airedale National Health Service Trust have, it is agreed, provided both to Mr Bland. Introduction of the nasogastric tube is itself a task of some delicacy even in an insensate patient. Thereafter it must be monitored to ensure it has not become dislodged and to control inflammation, irritation and infection to which it may give rise.

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