Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] 1 All ER 821 (HL)

Declaration – best interests – persistent vegetative state – withdrawal of medical treatment

A doctor who had in his care a patient who was incapable of deciding whether or not to consent to treatment was under no absolute obligation to prolong the patient’s life regardless of the circumstances or the quality of the patient’s life. Medical treatment, including artificial feeding and the administration of antibiotic drugs, could lawfully be withheld from an insensate patient with no hope of recovery when it was known that the result would be that the patient would shortly thereafter die, provided responsible and competent medical opinion was of the view that it would be in the patient’s best interests not to prolong his life by continuing that form of medical treatment because such continuance was futile and would not confer any benefit on him.

Discontinuance of life support by the withdrawal of artificial feeding or other means of support did not amount to a criminal act because if the continuance of an intrusive life support system was not in the patient’s best interests the doctor was no longer under a duty to maintain the patient’s life but was simply allowing his patient to die of his pre-existing condition and his death would be regarded in law as exclusively caused by the injury or disease to which his condition was attributable.

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