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Report No. 196

Chapter IV

Other Cases Decided in UK and Ireland Before and After Airedale

Airedale (1993) decided by the House of Lords, has been followed in a number of cases in UK and it was pointed out that in the case of incompetent patients, if doctors act on the basis of informed medical opinion, and withdraw the artificial life-support systems if it is in the patient's best interests, then the said action cannot be characterized as an offence under criminal law. Even before Airedale, there are important judgments which got crystallized in Airedale.

The question arises as to what is meant by the words 'best interests of the patient'. This question is interlinked with another important aspect dealing with the consent or wishes of the patient or in case the patient is a minor, on the wishes of the parents, or where the patient is in permanent vegetative state, as to who should decide about this.

As everybody, including the doctors and the Court have to give weight to the wishes of the patient or his parents, question arises whether the thinking of the patient or the parents is based upon a rational analysis of the problem or is based on irrelevant matters. Therefore, it has been held that the consent or refusal of the patient or parents is entitled to weight, only where it is an informed one, in the sense that the decision has been taken after full knowledge of the choices or otherwise of life support systems prolonging the life without pain or suffering.

In as much as, from the point of view of the State, life is sacrosanct and every effort should be made to continue life in a patient, the question arises when a patient's parents' desire to stop life-support system, can be accepted? In case there is divergence of opinion between the opinions of the patient/parents on the one hand and that of the doctors on the other, whether it will always be necessary for any of these or all of them to obtain the opinion of the Court of Law? These aspects have come up for decision in UK in several cases.

We shall now refer to other decisions of UK on this subject to show the gradual development of the law in UK on these important issues.

Medical Treatment to Terminally Ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Back

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