Withdrawal of Life-sustaining Treatment outside Courts’ Compulsory Jurisdiction
On 30 July 2018, the UK Supreme Court ruled, in the case of NHS Trust v Y (by his litigation friend, the Official Solicitor)  UKSC 46, that not all decisions concerning a withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment require the Courts’ approval. Unlike euthanasia or assisted dying, neither of which is legal in the United Kingdom (Suicide Act 1961,s 2), a withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment from a patient in a vegetative state is treated as an omission (as opposed to an ‘act’) conducted in the best interest of the patient and therefore does not incur any criminal liability (Airedale NHS Trust v Bland  1 All ER 821 HL). Up until now, however, any such decision was believed to require a declaration from a Court, usually the Court of Protection, that the withdrawal of treatment resulting in death would be lawful. In its opinion, the UK Supreme Court concludes now that such a procedure is only required where there is no agreement between the doctors and the family as to the withdrawal of treatment but where such an agreement has already been reached, no separate approval from any Court is needed.
In the recent years, there have been several attempts to legalise assisted dying in the United Kingdom, both through legislation and various Courts’ cases. However, in the 2014 case of R (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice  UKSC 38), the UK Supreme Court refused to recognise the right to assisted dying under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights basing its decision on the 2002 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Pretty v. United Kingdom (App. No.: 2346/02) and Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill was defeated in Parliament in 2015 (BBC). The decision in NHS Trust v Y does not change the status of assisted dying in the United Kingdom but it does remove most of life-death decisions from the immediate supervision of the Courts, at least where both the patient’s doctors and family members agree to withdraw the treatment. This decision should relieve the Courts from a considerable chunk of their workload in the area of medical treatment applications while at the same time reinforce the rights of family members of patients in a vegetative state by allowing them to make those critical decisions in the privacy of hospital rooms, without any state interference.