A family who had been fighting a hospital order not to resuscitate their severely ill father said they were devastated today when a court found that it was in his best interests to withhold life saving treatment if his condition deteriorated significantly.
Tonight the family, who were praised for the sincerity and dignity throughout the court case, said they would try and appeal the decision and revealed that they were considering medical negligence claims.
In July, the 55-year-old father, who can only be identified as Mr L, suffered a third cardiac arrest and catastrophic brain damage. The doctors insisted that he was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and implemented a do not resuscitate (DNR) instruction without consulting his family, against both national guidelines and Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust’s own policy.
Fighting the order through the Court of Protection in August, the family insisted he would never agree to such an order as a devoted family man and devout Muslim. Their claim that they were seeing signs of awareness was dismissed as simply reflex movement. The clinicians agreed that that there was “no meaningful prospect of further recovery” and to resuscitate him would simply be a “prolongation of death and lack of dignity”.
But in an eleventh-hour development, a film taken by his eldest son was shown to a leading expert who concluded that he was not PVS but in a state of minimal consciousness.
“When they said he was not PVS it felt like a miracle to turn the opinion of an expert,” his 25-year-old son told The Independent, describing how every one of his sons and daughters – now aged 35 to 21 - as well as wider family had visited him every day, sometimes twice a day.
But today, having heard unanimous evidence from both the doctors treating Mr L as well as independent experts that he was unlikely to improve from a minimally conscious state and to resuscitate him would be go against the medical principal of “do not harm” and might even be cruel, Mr Justice Moylan found in favour of the trust.
“As harsh as it might sounds it would prolong Mr L’s death and not prolong in any meaningful way his life,” the judge said.
He emphasised that, although religion and family views had to be put in the balance, his decision must be based on "the best interests" of the patient.
He refused leave to appeal but last night lawyers for the family said they would be considering renewing their application in the Court of Appeal as well as a medical negligence claim.
The family’s Solicitor, Julianne Moore, a specialist in Medical Negligence at law firm, Pannone commented: “They are devastated at the outcome of the hearing and remain of the view that all attempts should be made to prolong L’s life, particularly in view of his uncertain prognosis.”
She continued: “The family are also concerned that there were failures in the care provided to L whilst a patient at the hospital which may have caused or contributed to his condition and we will be advising the family in respect of allegations of medical negligence.”
Dr Sally Bradley, medical director for The Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said later that the case had a “very sad, difficult and complex” case but all the doctors agreed that if he was resuscitated “he will suffer more pain and sustain further damage to his brain”.