Autistic Man Better Off in Institutional Care, Judge Rules

In a case which caused an ‘ideological schism’ between care professionals, a Court of Protection judge has ruled that it is in an autistic man’s best interests to be placed in institutional care despite the fierce opposition of his ‘utterly committed’ parents.

The couple had insisted that their 25-year-old son should remain with them, rather than being consigned to a specialist hospital. However, a senior nurse had described him as ‘dangerous’ and had been highly critical of his diet – which was said to be restricted largely to jam sandwiches – and other aspects of his care at home.

The case had given rise to disagreements between various professionals involved in the case which were ‘frequently bitter and occasionally rancorous’. However, the Court concluded that the man would be better off being looked after in the hospital, which was ‘a quite extraordinary resource’ and regarded by experts as ‘a centre of excellence’ finely tuned to meeting the needs of him and others like him.

The judge noted that, despite his disabilities – which included learning difficulties, developmental delay, autism, epilepsy and diabetes – there was ‘a great deal more’ to the man than met the eye. He radiated a sense of happiness and had a sense of humour that was all his own. His parents’ love for him was unconditional and they had proved tenacious advocates on his behalf.

However, there was no doubt that his behaviour could be ‘very challenging’ and there would inevitably come a time when his parents would not be able to care for him any longer. There was a consensus that he had greater potential than was currently being realised and it was essential that he be afforded the opportunity of one day leading a more independent life.

The judge observed, “I have been struck by how similar this couple’s concerns are to the fears of every parent whose child leaves home on the first steps to independent living. The sheer normality of their reaction signals to me that their son, like any other young man, is entitled to the opportunity to fulfil his potential.

“I would be failing to respect his personal integrity and autonomy if I did not afford him this chance. I hope that his parents will embrace it.” In those circumstances, the judge granted declarations sought by local NHS authorities that it was in the man’s best interests to be cared for in the hospital until he could be discharged into the community with the benefit of a suitable assisted living package.