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Judges Will No Longer Rule On Stopping Life Support For People In Vegetative States

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A court order will no longer be required to withdraw care for patients in a long-term vegetative state, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The decision will make it easier to withdraw food and liquid to people in long-term vegetative states, allowing them to die.

The case was brought after a man, known as Mr Y, was left in an unresponsive state with no prospect of improvement following a heart attack which caused severe brain damage last year.

It was agreed by his family and doctors that withdrawing his feeding tube and allowing him to die would be in his best interests. 

However, this could not be done without his family going before a judge to gain legal permission.

For the last 25 years, the cases of people in permanent vegetative states have been decided by the Court of Protection, which makes decisions on welfare issues for people who lack the mental capacity to do so themselves.

This means families like Mr Y’s must undertake costly and time-consuming legal action to obtain judicial permission to turn off the machines that keep them alive. 

The NHS Trust asked the High Court to declare that this process was not necessary where doctors and the patient’s family all believe and agree that withdrawing care is in the patient’s best interests.

The judge agreed, but the official solicitor appealed on behalf of Mr Y.

Thousands of people are believed to be in long-term vegetative states, although precise figures are not available. Applications for legal permission can take years and cost thousands of pounds.

Mr Y died while the court case was going on, but the case was continued to allow the courts to make a ruling.

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