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Airedale National Health Service Trust v Bland [1993] AC 789

Medical treatment - Ending treatment in absence of informed consent

Facts

Bland was injured in the Hillsborough disaster when he was seventeen and a half years old and was left in a persistent vegetative state. He remained in this state for over two years with no sign of improvement, whilst being kept alive by life support machines. Bland could breathe by himself but required feeding via a tube and received full care. The doctors that were treating Bland were granted approval to remove of the tube that was feeding him. This decision was then appealed to the House of Lords by the Solicitor acting on Bland’s behalf.

Issues

A patient that is in a persistent vegetative state cannot withhold or offer consent for treatment. This requires the doctors to act in the best interests of the patient, which in this case was whether the continuation of Bland being on life support was in his best interests. It was important to understand whether life support can ever be withdrawn from an individual who cannot provide medical professionals with informed consent on a specific issue.

Held

Doctors have a duty to act in the best interests of their patients but this does not necessarily require them to prolong life. On the basis that there was no potential for improvement, the treatment Bland was receiving was deemed not to be in his best interests. It is not lawful to cause or accelerate death. However, in this instance, it was lawful to withhold life-extending treatment which in this instance was the food that Bland was being fed through a tube. Appeal dismissed.


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