Report No. 196
After stating that the principle of sanctity of life is important for the State, Lord Keith said it was not absolute. He said:
"It (the principle of sanctity of life) does not compel a medical practitioner on pain of terminal sanction to treat a patient, who will die, if he does not, contrary to the express wishes of the patient. It does not authorize forcible feeding of prisoners on hunger strike. It does not compel the temporary keeping alive of patients who are terminally ill where to do so would merely prolong their suffering.
On the other hand, it forbids the taking of active measures to cut short the life of a terminally-ill patient. In my opinion, it does no violence to the principle to hold that it is lawful to cease to give medical treatment and care to a P.V.S. patient who has been in that state for over three years, considering that to do so involves invasive manipulations of the patient's body to which he has not consented and which confers no benefit upon him."
Lord Keith observed that the law in other countries, and in particular in USA was the same that such withdrawal is not treated as a criminal offence. He said:
"it is of some comfort to observe that in other common-law jurisdictions, particularly in the United States where there are many cases on the subject, the Courts have, with near unanimity, concluded that it is not unlawful to discontinue medical treatment and care, including artificial feeding of P.V.S. patients and others in similar conditions".
He also pointed out that, in order to protect the interests of patients, doctors and patients families and reassurance to the public, it is permissible to seek a declaration from the Family Division and the Court of Appeal for permission for withdrawal of life support. This is necessary till a body of experience and practice is built up.