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Withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration from minimally conscious and vegetative patients: Family perspectives

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Publication details

JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
DateE-pub ahead of print - 14 Jan 2015
DatePublished (current) - Feb 2015
Issue number2
Number of pages4
Pages (from-to)157-160
Early online date14/01/15
Original languageEnglish


In W v M, family members made an application to the Court of Protection for withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration from a minimally conscious patient. Subsequent scholarly discussion has centred around the ethical adequacy of the judge's decision not to authorise withdrawal. This article brings a different perspective by drawing on interviews with 51 individuals with a relative who is (or was) in a vegetative or minimally conscious state (MCS). Most professional medical ethicists have treated the issue as one of life versus death; by contrast, families-including those who believed that their relative would not have wanted to be kept alive-focused on the manner of the proposed death and were often horrified at the idea of causing death by 'starvation and dehydration'. The practical consequence of this can be that people in permanent vegetative state (PVS) and MCS are being administered life-prolonging treatments long after their families have come to believe that the patient would rather be dead. We suggest that medical ethicists concerned about the rights of people in PVS/ MCS need to take this empirical data into account in seeking to apply ethical theories to medico-legal realities.

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