Judge rules Policeman’s life support treatment can stop
23 December 2016 by Andrea Godfrey
This week the Court of Protection ruled that doctors should stop providing life-support treatment to Paul Briggs aged 43. Paul was a policeman and army veteran but has been in a coma since he had a motorbike accident in July 2015. He was involved in a head-on collision with another motorist Chelsea Rowe in Birkenhead, as she swerved onto the wrong side of the road for reasons she cannot explain and for which she was later jailed for a year.
Paul suffered serious injuries which included a bleed on the brain and several fractures to his spine which left him in a coma.
His wife Lindsey applied to the Court of Protection for an order that his life support be turned off as she believed this would have been his wishes and he would have seen living in his current condition as torturous. Paul’s own doctors had opposed the withdrawal of treatment because they say he has been diagnosed as being “in a minimally conscious state”.
The Court of Protection sits to decide cases relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. The Judge said that the consequences of his decision would be that either Paul would move to a rehabilitation unit for further assessment and treatment or to a hospice for palliative care and his treatment will not be continued and he will die. The Judge had to reach his decision by considering what would be in Paul’s best interest. He concluded his best interests are best served by “giving effect to what he would have been able to dictate by exercising his right of self-determination rather than the very powerful counter arguments based on the preservation of his life”.
He recommended that Paul be moved to a hospice to be given palliative care for the final weeks of his life. However, the solicitors acting for Paul (appointed by the Official Solicitor’s office) have asked for permission to appeal so it is likely the doctors will continue his treatment until next year at which point a decision will be made on whether the appeal can go ahead.
The case is a reminder that if you have strong feelings or views as to what treatment you should have or not have, you should plan ahead by preparing either an advanced decision or a Lasting Power of Attorney. This gives you the opportunity to appoint someone to make those decision for you, which you can record and discuss with them in advance. This will ensure that any of your wishes are adhered to. If you do not have a Lasting Power of Attorney, the doctors, whilst having to take into account your relatives’ views, will have the final say. You may disagree (just as Paul’s wife does) and their decisions can be challenged through the Court of Protection – but this is very costly, time-consuming and emotional.
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