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Court applications for withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration from patients in a permanent vegetative state: Family experiences

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JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
DateAccepted/In press - 23 Jul 2015
DateE-pub ahead of print - 20 Oct 2015
DatePublished (current) - 2016
Issue number1
Volume42
Number of pages7
Pages (from-to)11-17
Early online date20/10/15
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Withdrawal of artificially delivered nutrition and hydration (ANH) from patients in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) requires judicial approval in England and Wales, even when families and healthcare professionals agree that withdrawal is in the patient's best interests. Part of the rationale underpinning the original recommendation for such court approval was the reassurance of patients' families, but there has been no research as to whether or not family members are reassured by the requirement for court proceedings or how they experience the process. The research reported here draws on in-depth narrative interviews with 10 family members (from five different families) of PVS patients who have been the subject of court proceedings for ANH-withdrawal. We analyse the empirical evidence to understand how family members perceive and experience the process of applying to the courts for ANH-withdrawal and consider the ethical and practice implications of our findings. Our analysis of family experience supports arguments grounded in economic and legal analysis that court approval should no longer be required. We conclude with some suggestions for how we might develop other more efficient, just and humane mechanisms for reviewing best interests decisions about ANH-withdrawal from these patients.

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