Following an emergency hearing, the Court of Appeal has authorised NHS doctors to amputate a frail pensioner’s gangrenous left leg below the knee, despite the fierce objections of her devoted son who feared that she would die on the operating table.
By the time that the pensioner had gone to the doctor complaining of pain in her foot, several of her toes were already gangrenous. Medics at first thought that they could save her foot, but were later unanimous that ‘nothing could be done to save it’.
Antibiotics could only briefly stem the tide of infection and doctors were united in their views that, without surgery, she would be ‘overwhelmed by septicaemia and die’. Amputation would be relatively straightforward, standing a very good chance of success, and other forms of treatment would be ‘brutal’ and ultimately fruitless.
The son, who had cared for his mother almost single-handedly for 10 years, insisted that she had told him unequivocally that she did not want to have the operation. Her language difficulties and tendency to be ‘withdrawn with strangers’ had been misinterpreted as a lack of capacity to decide for herself, he argued.
However, in refusing him permission to appeal against a Court of Protection decision to like effect, the Court found that, in the light of the overwhelming medical evidence, it was ‘not capable of contradiction’ that his mother lacked capacity and that the operation would be in her best interests.