In a landmark decision, the High Court has emphasised that anyone with the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves has an absolute right to refuse medical treatment. That is the case however unwise such a refusal might be and even if the inevitable consequence is death.
A mother, aged 50, required life-saving dialysis after attempting suicide by taking an overdose of pain killers. However, she had refused the treatment on the basis that she had no desire to live on. The NHS trust which managed the hospital where she was a patient applied to the Court under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 for permission to commence dialysis without her consent.
Married four times, she had enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle of champagne, lavish expenditure, and impulsive and self-centred decision making. She had attempted suicide after undergoing treatment for breast cancer and felt that the time was right for her to die. She had told doctors that if she could no longer enjoy a ‘sparkly’ lifestyle, she would rather not live at all.
In rejecting the trust’s application, the Court found that she had the mental capacity to refuse treatment. She had an absolute right to make that choice although many would consider it irrational and it would almost inevitably lead to her death. That long-established position reflected the value placed by society on personal autonomy in matters of medical treatment.