- A. M. FarrellA. M. FarrellChair of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh
- and E. S. DoveE. S. DoveReader in Health Law and Regulation at the University of Edinburgh
There are circumstances in which both law and ethics are engaged towards the end of an adult’s life. Among them are the conditions in which further medical treatment would be futile. Such treatment includes life-sustaining treatment provided by a ventilator, often necessitated following a traumatic brain injury which has placed them in a ‘prolonged disorder of consciousness’ from which there is no chance of recovery. Here an advance directive may not have been made, and it falls to the court to determine whether it is in the patient’s best interests to withdraw treatment. In this chapter, we consider the medical circumstances which may lead to that judicial consideration, along with the criteria on which courts will reach a decision on the legality of treatment withdrawal. We conclude that where there is disagreement with the insensate patient’s family members, treatment may be withdrawn where it is in that patient’s judicially assessed ‘best interests’, as long as there has been compliance with mental capacity legislation. In such circumstances, however, we also argue that treatment withdrawal is indistinguishable from euthanasia.