An Assessment of the Court's Role in the Withdrawal of Clinically Assisted Nutrition and Hydration from Patients in the Permanent Vegetative State

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In this article we reassess the court’s role in the withdrawal of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration from patients in the permanent vegetative state, focusing on cases where health care teams and families agree that such in the patient’s best interest. As well as including a doctrinal analysis, the reassessment draws on empirical data from the families of patients with prolonged disorders of consciousness, on economic data about the costs of the declaratory relief process to the NHS, and on comparative legal data about the comparable procedural requirements in other jurisdictions. We show that, following the decision in the Bland case, the role of the Court of Protection is now restricted to the direct supervision of the PVS diagnosis as a matter of proof. We argue that this is an inappropriate role for the court, and one that sits in some tension with the best interests of patients. The blanket requirement of declaratory relief for all cases is economically expensive for the NHS and thus deprives other NHS patients from health care. We demonstrate that many of the ancillary benefits currently offered by declaratory relief could be achieved by other means. Ultimately, we suggest that reform to the declaratory relief requirement is called for.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages32
JournalMedical Law Review
Early online date6 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Disorders of consciousness
  • PVS
  • Life-sustaining treatment
  • Best interests
  • Court of protection
  • Declaratory relief

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