“Don’t let my son die”

This was the plea made by desperate parents recently in a case relating to their teenage son, who is very seriously ill with cancer.

The child had been diagnosed with a brain tumour at the age of one. He had had almost continuous medical treatment since then. He is now blind and unable to look after himself. The doctors said in court that there was nothing further that they could do for him and that there was no prospect that further treatment would save his life. The doctors concluded that the young boy was dying.

The parents refused their consent for the withdrawal of treatment and so the hospital authorities made an application to the Court of Protection for permission to cease treatment except what was necessary to keep the child comfortable.

Having heard all the evidence, both from the doctors, independent experts and the parents, the Judge, who had sat until after midnight because of the urgency of the case, has given her decision in a detailed judgment. The judge has accepted the argument of the hospital and has given the permission which it sought. The child is expected to die shortly.

Cases such as this are some of the most difficult and poignant that come before any court. The judge has to balance the desire of the parents to preserve the life of their beloved child with an objective view which the judge must form of the overall interests of the child. Doctors never like to accept that there is nothing further that medicine can do for a patient. When they have no alternative but to accept that situation has arisen, it is inevitable that the judge will consider that a compelling factor in making the decision. The judge will also try to make an assessment of the likely quality of life if treatment is continued and whether it can be anticipated that the patient will suffer.

Many cases come before the Court of Protection. They often, quite literally, involve the difference between life and death. These cases require very specialist expertise so that all the appropriate material and arguments are put before the court.

Naturally, we hope that none of our readers is ever in that position. If however you are, or even you are worried that you might be, please contact us as soon as possible for urgent legal advice.