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Ms B v. An NHS Hospital Trust

[2002] 2 All ER 449 (2002)

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Ms B v. An NHS Hospital Trust

England and Wales High Court of Justice

[2002] 2 All ER 449 (2002)

Facts

A successful, 42-year-old female social worker and hospital team manager (patient) (plaintiff) in the United Kingdom developed a cluster of abnormal blood vessels around her cervical spine and suffered complete paralysis from her neck downward. The patient began to experience respiratory difficulty and became completely dependent on a ventilator to breathe. Hospital staff members deemed the patient mentally incompetent to make decisions regarding her medical treatment for four months after being placed on the ventilator. The National Health Service Hospital Trust (NHS trust) (defendant) responsible for the working of the hospital began to make medical-treatment decisions for the incapacitated patient. Consulting psychiatrists at the hospital later determined that the patient stabilized and regained the mental capacity to consent to or refuse recommended medical and surgical treatments. The patient filed suit, requesting that staff members in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU) turn off her ventilator and let her die. The patient presented written and oral evidence making her wishes and feelings clearly understood that she did not want to be kept alive by the ventilator. The patient had investigated her medical condition and understood that the ICU staff members were trained to save her life, not to assist in her death, and that the treating clinicians were deeply distressed by the prospect of helping the patient end her life. The NHS trust instead supported a one-way weaning process off the ventilator. Essentially, this approach would attempt to allow the patient to breathe on her own but would still result in her death in a potentially slower and more painful manner. The patient argued that she had the mental capacity to make the decision to refuse ventilation treatment, which would end her life in a matter of hours.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Butler-Sloss, J.)

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