Volume 5, September 2005
What Is Man, That The Judges Are Mindful Of Him?:
Lessons From The PVS Cases
* Barrister (London, England)
“What is man,
that thou are mindful of him?”, asked the Psalmist. And the same question should be asked whenever judges
ponder whether or not the life of a medically compromised patient should be
ended. The classic situation in which this issue arises is on an application to
withdraw feeding and nutrition from a patient in persistent vegetative state
If the diagnosis of PVS is right, said the House of Lords in
Airedale NHS Trust v Bland,
treatment is, by definition, futile. Not only do doctors have no duty to
undertake futile treatment, they have a duty not to undertake treatment unless
it is in the best interests of the patient, and where there is PVS it is, as a
matter of law, not in the best interests of the patient to continue feeding and
hydration. Accordingly it is lawful and, probably, mandatory, to bring about
that patient’s death. In coming to this conclusion, English judges and those in
other jurisdictions have inevitably said something (although it generally has
to be read between the lines of their judgments), about what they think the
essence of a human being is. Sometimes these thoughts are presumptions:
sometimes they are reasoned conclusions. But whatever they are, they impinge
significantly, but less demonstrably, on most other areas of judicial activity.
It is important to identify them. Most judges think that they have a
well-reasoned set of jurisprudential fundamentals. But there is nothing more
fundamental than what one thinks man, the only real subject of judicial
activity, is. There is an alarming poverty of judicial thought about that. The
PVS cases show judicial philosophy in the raw, stripped of all the devices
which usually allow judges to hide their emotional and theological colours. It
may be that some of our forensic emperors have no clothes.
All judges say that they believe in the “sanctity” of human
Although it is reassuring that they say this, it is an easy thing to say. It is
less easy to say what the expression means. The judges have been more coy about
that. This article examines the four possible meanings of the expression which
emerge from PVS cases, and comments on how intellectually consistent the judges
who have embraced each meaning have been. It concentrates on decisions of the
English courts. But first, some context is necessary.
PVS is a state in which there is generally extensive damage
to the cerebral neocortex. The brain stem, which is responsible for the
vegetative functions such as respiratory movement and the regulation of heart
rate and rhythm, is more or less intact. Patients therefore breathe
spontaneously, have normally functioning hearts, and require no support other
than nursing care (turning, toileting etc), feeding and the provision of
fluids. Feeding and hydration are generally done through nasogastric tubes,
intravenous lines or stomas going directly into the stomach.
The neocortex is responsible for most of the “higher”
functions of human beings. When it is destroyed: “Personality, memory,
purposive action, social interaction, sentience, thought, and even emotional
states are gone. Only vegetative functions and reflexes persist.”
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss P found it helpful to think of the state as one in
which there was no “evidence of a working mind.”
Diagnosis is difficult and controversial. There are a number
of different codes embodying slightly different diagnostic criteria
The failure of some patients to fit neatly into the diagnostic boxes has
created problems for the courts.
Perhaps most definitively, properly diagnosed PVS patients
do not have any potential to do anything except age, get ill, and die.
Caring for a patient with PVS, either as a family member or
friend or as a professional carer, is inevitably harrowing. Some family members
feel that the patient is already, for all practical purposes, dead, but that they
cannot grieve properly. Some, conversely, feel that the essence of the person
is still present, and make faithful journeys to the patient’s bedside each day,
or indeed care for the patient at home. Some PVS patients are, although they
may not be able to realize it, the hub of their communities.
To a large extent, PVS is a creature of medical technology.
It generally occurs in people who have been heroically resuscitated. Although
no advanced technology is necessary to allow PVS patients to survive in PVS, in
a less technologically advanced age, most of them would have died before they
When nutrition and hydration are withdrawn, the patient will
generally die within about 14 days. It is not a nice process to watch or to
think about, but all the authorities are agreed that the patient is not in
IS MEANT BY THE SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE?
THE FOUR VIEWS
Broadly, four entirely different meanings of the expression
“the sanctity of life” can be detected in the authorities. They are as follows:
First, that any human who is biologically alive is sacred. Second, that there
is no magic in biological life per se: what is sacrosanct is the conglomeration
of those characteristics of human life which constitute the quintessence of a
human being. Third: it is not human life itself which is to be reverenced, but
the rights which a human being possesses by reason of his humanity. And fourth:
it is not the individual, or his characteristics, or his rights which are
sanctified, but his status as a member of the wider community.
These propositions are examined in turn.
(1): IT IS BIOLOGICAL LIFE THAT IS SANCTIFIED
In English law, PVS patients are alive. In Bland
Lord Goff said:
I start with the simple fact that, in law, Anthony is still alive. It
is true that his condition is such that it can be described as a living death,
but he is nonetheless still alive....The evidence is that [his] brain stem is
still alive and functioning and it follows that, in the present state of
medical science, he is still alive and should be so regarded as a matter of
The criterion of brain stem death has been applied to define
death in all the cases.,
patients are alive they have (or at least the judges say that they have) all the
legal rights of anyone else, including the right to life embodied in Article 2
of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), but they can still be starved to death. They have, it
might be said, nothing but biological life, and that can be, and indeed
arguably must be, taken away. It seems, then, that in English law, the essence
of a man is not regarded as identical with, or even significantly co-extensive,
with, the biological fact of his existence.
The position is more or less the same in other common law
Cases sometimes cited as exceptions tend not to be true exceptions at all.
(2): IT IS VARIOUS CHARACTERISTICS OF HUMAN LIFE THAT ARE SANCTIFIED
Judges have often expressed themselves in ways which suggest
that this is what they mean by the sanctity of life. Indeed it could be said
that the ratio of Bland was that the
faculties possessed by PVS patients are not faculties which the court thinks
are sufficiently characteristically constitutive of human beings for it to be
supposed that the patient would want to continue to possess them. The
assumption is that there is that there is a bare minimum of faculties which
need to be present in order for a person (a) to continue to be properly human,
or (b) have an interest in continued existence, or (c) deserve the full
protection of the law. The cases have generally expressed themselves in terms
similar to (b), but only for reasons of taste.
The faculties which PVS takes away have been noted above.
One could cite ad nauseam the comments of the judges of the world about the
significance of the absence of those faculties. They are broadly agreed that
consciousness, with all its corollaries (the capacity for self-awareness, for
pain, pleasure and relationship) are necessary defining characteristics of
humanity and therefore necessary for continued worthwhile human existence. Two
forthright but typical examples, both from Bland,
make the point:
cannot see, hear or feel anything. He cannot communicate in any way. The consciousness
which is the essential feature of individual personality has departed for ever.
The parts of
[Bland’s] brain which provided him with consciousness have turned to fluid. The
darkness and oblivion which descended at Hillsborough will never depart. His
body is alive, but he has no life in the sense that even the most pitifully
handicapped but conscious human being has a life......The continuation of
artificial sustenance and medical treatment will keep him alive but will not
restore him to having a life in any sense at all....We all know and admire
people who suffer pain and disability, of whom many would think that in their
position they would rather be dead, and yet who endure their lives and derive
meaning and satisfaction from living. But the very concept of having a life has
no meaning in relation to Anthony Bland. He is alive, but has no life at
all....There is no question of his life being worth living or not worth living,
because the stark reality is that Anthony Bland is not living a life at all.
None of the things that one says about the way people live their lives - well
or ill, with courage or fortitude, happily or sadly - have any meaning in
relation to him.
Because the spectre of misdiagnosis is so appalling, all
judgments emphasise the importance of the permanence of the condition. In doing
so they highlight another human characteristic: potential - the capacity to
move from one state to another. But it is a limited class of translations
between states which is valued. Bland, for example, did have the capacity to
change from being a young man to an old man, or from being a poor man to a rich
man.e changes which are valued are
evidently those changes which are either willed or capable of being appreciated
by the subject.
The capacity for relationship (which is implicit in the
capacity for communication), is also repeatedly emphasised as important.
Anthony Bland, however, was involved in plenty of relationships: he was loved
and valued by his family and carers, for example, (although it might be
countered that the quality of those relationships was not dependent on the
continued physical existence of his body). It does seem as if what was really
valued was not Bland’s capacity for relationship, but his ability to perceive
that he was in relationship. Awareness – and particularly its apotheosis,
self-awareness - is again the real defining characteristic of humanity
identified and rated as important by the
What we seem to have here is a definition of humanity (or
worthwhile human existence - they come to the same thing) in terms of function.
The cells in Anthony Bland’s cerebral cortex did not function properly. That
malfunction effectively disqualified him from sufficient identification with
other humans, or sufficient participation in the human enterprise, for the
support mechanisms which kept him vegetatively alive to be worth maintaining.
Either Bland’s intrinsic human worth resided in his cortex, and died with it,
or he had no intrinsic human worth which it was imperative to maintain.
PROPOSITION (3): IT IS THE RIGHTS WHICH A HUMAN BEING
POSSESSES THAT ARE SANCTIFIED
This is a
popular way of looking at the issue. It seems that for most judges, the
important thing is not to refrain from destroying a life, but to restrain from
infringing a right which the patient in question has. This analysis defines
human beings as bundles of rights. It is a view which has a high regard for the
law (human rights are, after all, artificial legal creatures), but a low or no
view of humanity itself.
is philosophically unsatisfactory: It begs the question of whether a human
being is a human being because he has rights, or whether he has rights because
he is a human being.
posited on the existence of interests, and are their corollaries. In Bland, most of the judges thought that
Tony Bland did have interests, and indeed said that the important question was
not whether it was in his best interests of the patient to die but whether it was in his best interests to
continue life-prolonging treatment. Hoffmann LJ thought that Bland had a positive interest in
his life being terminated, saying that “.....Counsel.....offers a seriously
incomplete picture of Anthony Bland’s interests when he confines them to animal
feelings of pain or pleasure. It is demeaning to the human spirit to say that,
being unconscious, he can have no interest in his personal privacy and dignity,
in how he lives or dies....”
It was a fallacy, he said, to assume that humans have no interests except in
those things which they have the capacity to experience. One could have an
interest in how one’s property was distributed after one’s death, for example,
or in the dignity with which one’s unconscious body died, or in respect being
paid to what are most likely to have been one’s own views on the cessation of
Only Lord Mustill said that it was a nonsense to speak of
Bland having any interests at all. After noting the arguments that Tony Bland’s
interest in maintaining his personal dignity was being infringed by continued
treatments, and that his interest in being remembered well by his family was
being compromised by his family having to see him in distressing circumstances,
he said that it was:
concept of personal rights beyond breaking point to say that Anthony Bland has
an interest in ending these sources of others’ distress. Unlike the conscious
patient he does not know what is happening to his body, and cannot be affronted
by it; he does not know of his family’s continuing sorrow. By ending his life
the doctors will not relieve him of a burden become intolerable, for others
carry the burden and he has none. What other considerations could make it
better for him to die now rather than later? None that we can measure, for of
death we know nothing. The distressing truth which must not be shirked is that
the proposed conduct is not in the best interests of Anthony Bland, for he has
no best interests of any kind.”,
All the judges approached the question of whether treatment
should be continued as a balancing exercise - balancing Tony Bland’s interests
in treatment against his interests in non-treatment. Lord Mustill was
forthright: for him the balancing exercise was easy, because there was nothing
at all to put in the pan on the side of continuing treatment. But did the
others judges really think that there was anything to put in that pan? If they
did, it is difficult to see what it was.
Whatever it means to be human, there was no doubt that
stopping treatment would lead to Tony Bland ceasing to be human (if he had not
already lost all quintessential human faculties) except insofar as the essence
of human existence consists in existence in the memories of others. Yet for
most of the judges to cease to exist (and therefore to cease to be human) was better for him than continuing to exist
in the condition that he would otherwise have continued to exist in. For Lord
Mustill it was meaningless to make assertions like that. The majority view was
that an ability to exist in a state in which certain interests (broadly the
interest in maintaining one’s own dignity) can be protected, is so central to
the definition of human life that when the ability is removed life has either
come to an end or can be brought to an end,.
Some of this is flatly contradicted by An NHS Trust v M,.
The contradiction is ironic: Dame Butler-Sloss P evidently thought that she was
saving Bland from the potential
depredations of the European Convention on Human Rights. But her judgment
essentially said that the only right possessed by a PVS patient was the right
not to be killed by active criminality. Put another way, the only interest
possessed by such a patient was an interest in not being murdered by a
commission. She thought, therefore, that PVS patients possessed less than the
judges in Bland thought they
possessed. She thought that there was less to revere. Although the reasoning in
M is confusing, it is unsurprising that Butler-Sloss P decided, like the court
in Bland, that it was justifiable to
deprive such patients of their biological life.
She held that in a PVS case, Article 3 of the ECHR was not
engaged. Article 3 provides that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to
inhuman or degrading treatment.” The NHS Trusts concerned had submitted that
Article 3 could be invoked to protect a PVS patient’s right to die with
dignity, and that it was degrading to enforce the continuation of life in the
circumstances of PVS. It was submitted
against them, on behalf of the patients, that for treatment to be degrading in
an Article 3 sense the patient had to be aware of the treatment (and presumably
at least its degrading nature, if not feel actually degraded by it), and
further that administration of medical treatment in good faith is unlikely to be
a violation of Article 3.
Butler-Sloss P appeared to accept both of the patients’
submissions, although her acceptance of the “good faith means no Article 3
breach” argument was rather mistily equivocal. In relation to the requirement
of awareness, she said:
I am......satisfied that Article 3 requires the victim
to be aware of the inhuman and degrading treatment which he or she is
experiencing or at least to be in a state of physical or mental suffering. An
insensate patient suffering from [PVS] has no feelings and no comprehension of
the treatment accorded to him or her. Article 3 does not in my judgment apply
to these two cases...
There was a blistering dissent from this position by Munby J
in R v General Medical Council ex p Burke.
He thought that Article 3 would be engaged. Probably Strasbourg would be on his side. The
point for present purposes is that these patients were being bothered about by
the lawyers primarily because of the rights which they may or may not have had.
Article 8 (“Everyone has the right to respect for his
private and family life, his home and correspondence”) protects “the right to
personal autonomy, otherwise described as the right to physical and bodily
but, per Butler-Sloss P, does not, in the case of PVS patients, confer a right
independent of the patients’ Article 2 right. Its primary value in such cases
is not as a guarantor of a fundamental right, but as a canon of construction:
....[Counsel for the Trust] suggested that Article 8
may be in conflict with Article 2 and is to be balanced against Article 2. I
prefer however the submission of [Counsel for the patients] that, in seeking to
determine the scope of the positive obligation in Article 2, assistance can be
derived from the provisions of Article 8....
It is true that she did say that “....the fundamental principle....that every person’s body is
was also to be found in Article 8,
but treated this principle as subsumed invisibly into Article 2.
Thus Article 3 gives PVS patients nothing (if Butler-Sloss
P’s view prevails over that of Munby J), and Article 8 gives them nothing
meaningful. In terms of an ECHR analysis, then (and it was not suggested in M that any other analysis would give
patients anything else), the only right such patients possess is an Article 2
right. And that right is the most technical and least comforting of
Article 2, the “Right to life”, states:
right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life
intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his
conviction of a crime for which this penalty is provided by law.....”
considered that the intention of withdrawal of treatment from a PVS patient was
to bring about the patient’s death or to shorten his life, but that the phrase “deprivation of life”:
import a deliberate act, as opposed to an omission, by someone acting on behalf
of the state, which results in death. A responsible decision by a medical team
not to provide treatment....could not amount to intentional deprivation of life
by the state. Such a decision based on clinical judgment is an omission to act.
The death of the patient is the result of the illness or injury from which he
suffered and that cannot be described as a deprivation....
This is the straightforward act/omission distinction which
underlies Bland. It is open to many
criticisms, but for present purposes it is enough to note rhetorically that
whatever the right to life means in the context of a PVS patient, it does not
mean the right not to be starved out of one’s biological life. However it is
wrapped up, a PVS patient has no meaningful Article 2 right except a right not
to be killed by a medical or external act done with the intention of killing
(or, presumably, causing grievous bodily harm). That, implied Butler-Sloss P,
falls beneath the threshold criteria which have to be satisfied if life is to be considered worth preserving.
(4): IT IS THE HUMAN BEING’S STATUS AS A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY THAT IS
It might often
seem as if PVS is the ultimate isolation - a sort of permanent exile from all
senses, and, because senses are generally perceived as necessary to participate
in community, from community itself. But even PVS patients are not islands unto
themselves. Quite apart from the rights flowing from their persisting status as
legally human beings which have been discussed above, they continue to have the
capacity to affect others in a number of respects.
The courts have
been influenced by arguments which assume that the life of a PVS patient (or
anyone else) is conditionally sanctified. Such a life is regarded as sacrosanct
as long as, rationally balanced, its continuation is in the overall interests
of the community. This is pure utilitarianism.
arguments have been deployed:
(1): PVS PATIENTS CONSUME RESOURCES WHICH COULD OTHERWISE HELP OTHER PATIENTS.
TO MAINTAIN A PVS PATIENT MIGHT THEREFORE BE TO KILL OTHER PATIENTS.
The courts have
been slow to acknowledge that financial considerations might be legitimately
relevant to clinical decision making. It is not difficult to understand why.
The rhetoric which says that doctors, not hospital accountants, should decide
how treatment should be deployed has an obvious appeal. But of course if that
argument is accepted it does not mean that finances are irrelevant: it simply
means that the burden of deciding how resources should be allocated rests with
clinicians rather than accountants. The English law has given little help as to
the principles which should underlie decisions about resource allocation. It
has been argued strenuously that a doctor who takes money into consideration
takes an irrelevant criterion into consideration and has therefore made a
decision in a reviewably defective way. Arguments can and have been mounted that there is an
absolute statutory duty to give the treatment which is the patient’s best
interests (under the National Health Services Acts), and an absolute duty under
ECHR Article 2, and that the language of absolutism necessarily outlaws
economic considerations. But that is not the real world. Demands for healthcare
in patients’ best interests are theoretically infinite: national healthcare
budgets are not, and it is not unreasonable not to have an infinite healthcare
budget. That was what the Court of Appeal finally said.
But the courts have said little more. They tend to approach questions about
funding (whether those questions are raised in a private or a public law context)
wielding two analytically complementary tools: the private law Bolam
test (which says
that a doctor will not be negligent if what he has done would be endorsed by a
responsible body of medical opinion in the relevant specialty) and the public
law Wednesbury test (which says that a decision will not be struck down unless
it is frankly irrational).
In Bland, Lord
Browne-Wilkinson said that “it is not legitimate for a judge in reaching a view
as to what is for the benefit of the one individual whose life is in issue to
take into account the wider practical issues as to allocation of limited
financial resources or the impact on third parties of altering the time at
which death occurs.”
It does not follow from this that questions of resource allocation are
irrelevant to the question of whether treatment should be continued, unless one
concludes that the narrow ratio of Bland
is that the “best interests” test, determined by reference to the Bolam principle, is determinative of the
legality of continued treatment. Lord Browne-Wilkinson himself did not seem to
think that the ratio was this narrow, and was probably just cautioning against
using economic criteria to help solve novel, ethically explosive questions.
Lord Mustill thought that the point about resource
allocation, and other effects on third parties, was properly the business of
Parliament. He said:
Threaded through the technical arguments addressed to
the House were the strands of a much wider position, that it is in the best
interests of the community at large that Anthony Bland’s life should now end.
The doctors have done all they can. Nothing will be gained by going on and much
will be lost....The large resources of skill, labour and money now being
devoted to Anthony Bland might in the opinion of many be more fruitfully
employed in improving the condition of other patients, who if treated may have
useful, healthy and enjoyable lives for years to come.
This argument was never squarely put, although hinted
at from time to time. In social terms it has great force, and it will have to
be faced in the end. But this is not a task which the courts can possibly
undertake. A social cost-benefit analysis of this kind, which would have to
embrace “mercy killing” to which exactly the same considerations apply, must be
for Parliament alone, and the outcome of it is at present quite impossible to
ARGUMENT (2): A PVS PATIENT IS INVOLVED IN EMOTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER
PEOPLE. SINCE THE PATIENT HAS NO INTERESTS, HIS FUTURE SHOULD BE DECIDED BY
CONSIDERING THE IMPACT OF HIS SURVIVAL ON THOSE OTHER PEOPLE.
Although denuded of the ability to feel, the potential to
develop, and many of the rights which the law recognises more competent people
as possessing, the biological extinction or continued survival of a PVS patient
matters to people other than the patient. Obvious examples are the patient’s
family (who might profoundly wish the patient to be allowed to die) and the
clinical staff caring for the patient (who may have established a real relationship,
however unilateral, with the patient, and who would be very distressed by the
The common law, however, in its desire not to be seen to be
acting in the interests of anyone but the patient, has given the interests of
others little consideration. this includes the effect on carers etc of his
death. A good example is NHS Trust A v M
where Butler-Sloss P was urged to take into account under Article 8 the views
and feelings of the patients’ families. She said:
[Those views and feelings] are, or course, important
considerations for the hospitals treating these patients to take into account.
It is not necessary for me in the present cases to come to a conclusion [as to]
whether the wishes and feelings of the families form part of the patient’s
right to respect for family life under Article 8 in situations where the
patient is insensate. If they are relevant they cannot outweigh any positive
obligation on the state to maintain the patient’s life. I rather doubt that the
families have rights under Article 8 separate from the rights of the patient,
but a decision on that issue also is not a necessary part of my overall
These observations on families’ Article 8 rights are highly
dubious. Probably those rights are at least engaged. It is difficult to imagine
anything which interferes more obviously with A’s enjoyment of his family life
with B than the death of B. This
issue will no doubt be fully argued soon.
The codes of the various clinical professional organisations
unsurprisingly insist that it is good practice to consult with relatives about
any decision to withdraw treatment.
Anything else would be old-fashioned medical paternalism of an extreme kind.
Probably the English courts will grope towards a pragmatic compromise: they
will acknowledge that relatives have an Article 8 right to be consulted about
treatment options, and indeed other Article 8 rights engaged in any decision
about treatment which might affect the survival of the patient.
PVS cases force
judges to be philosophers. They force them to say what they think human beings
really are. All judges say that they believe in the sanctity of human life, and
tend, unhelpfully, to define human life as that which is sanctified. What they
mean by ‘sanctity’ emerges mistily in their judgments. Four views emerge: (1)
That biological human life is sacred. (2) That what is sacred is the bundle of
human characteristics which, if possessed, allows a being to be described as
human. (3) That what are sacred are the rights that the law says a human
possesses. (4) That what is sacred is the human’s status as a member of the
human community - with the implication that inability to participate in that
community means loss of the status. There are obvious circularities in these
definitions. This paper examines the way in which those four views govern judicial thinking, and
notes that, judges being human themselves, there is a high degree of
incoherence and inconsistency.
The author is
grateful to Professor Tony Hope, Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Oxford, and to Dr.
Mike Parker, Reader in Medical Ethics at the University of Oxford, for their
detailed comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
. See, eg
Lord Goff in Bland at 864: “To this extent, the principle of the
sanctity of human life must yield to the principle of self-determination”
(citing Hoffmann LJ in the Court of Appeal at pp. 826-827); Lord Browne-Wilkinson
in Bland at 878: “What is meant now by “life” in the moral precept which requires
respect for the sanctity of human life?” Taylor LJ in Re J (a minor) (wardship: medical treatment)  Fam 33 at 52: “...the court’s high respect for the sanctity
of human life imposes a strong presumption in favour of taking all steps
capable of preserving it, save in exceptional circumstances....” It is
accepted that simply to say that something (eg sentience) is relevant to a
decision about withdrawal of treatment does not necessarily mean that (eg)
sentience is being equated with the sanctity of life. But in fact an equation
of each of the four listed characteristics with sanctity does emerge from the
President’s Commission, Deciding to
. NHS Trust A v H  2 FLR 501 at 504
. International working party report on the
vegetative state.: Working Group of the Royal College of Physicians. London: Royal Hospital for Neurodisability, 1996. The
permanent vegetative state. J.R. Coll Phys 1996; 30: 119-121 and addendum:
1997: 31: 260: MultiSociety Task Force on PVS. Medical aspects of the persistent vegetative state: Part 1: N. Engl
J Med. 1994; 330: 1499-1507: Part 2: 330: 1572-1579; D.T. Wade and C.
Johnston The permanent vegetative state: practical guidance on diagnosis and
management. BMJ 1999: 841-844.
. Eg Re D (1997) 38 BMLR 1:  2 FLR 501.
. All the
judges in Bland agreed that Tony
Bland was alive. Their conclusion was recently reconsidered and applied by Dame
Elizabeth Butler-Sloss P in An NHS Trust
v M: An NHS Trust v H  2 FLR 367 at 373.
. It has
been argued by some philosophers that permanently unconscious patients are
really dead, because life consists in personhood and personhood consists in or
necessarily involves consciousness: see, for example, R.M.Veatch , The whole-brain-oriented concept of death:
an outmoded philosophical foundation. J. Thanatol. 1975; 3: 13-30 and
K.G.Gervais Redefining death: New Haven, Yale University Press, 1997. Cited and discussed
further in Jennett, B, The Vegetative
State, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002: 81-82. This approach has not attracted the
judges, and there are obvious practical and theoretical difficulties with it.
. See An NHS Trust v M: An NHS Trust v H,
Scotland: Law Hospital NHS Trust v Lord
Advocate  2 FLR 407: USA: Finn
v Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 527 SE 2d 426; New Zealand: Auckland Area Health Board v Attorney
General  1 NZLR 235; South Africa: Clarke v Hurst  5 Med LR 177 : Canada: Nancy B v Hotel-Dieu de Quebec (1992) 86 DLR (4th) 385:
Ireland Re Ward of Court  2 IRLM 901.
. Eg Cruzan v Director, Missouri Department of
Health (1990)110 S.Ct. 2841, which is simply US Supreme Court authority for
the proposition that it was not constitutionally offensive for Missouri to
require clear and convincing evidence that a PVS patient would have wanted
treatment to be discontinued, before discontinuing it.
. It is probably reasons of taste, too,
which have inhibited judges from resorting to the philosophical language,
beloved of Singer, Glover and Harris, of
“persons” and “non-persons”.
. Per Lord Keith at 856
Hoffmann LJ at 825, 828 and 829
. The judges’ talk about the capacity for
relationship is curious. Philosophically it is something of a red herring. If
there is no consciousness any relationship must be unilateral. A car has no
consciousness but yet can be loved. The fact that it is loved does not make it
. For a
reasoned and concise defence of the position that “human beings possess an
ineradicable value prior and subsequent to the possibility of exercising
autonomy”, see Keown, J and Gormally, L: Human
Dignity, Autonomy and Mentally Incapacitated Patients: A critique of ‘Who
Decides?’  4 Web JCL
. Per Lord
Goff at 868 and Lord Browne-Wilkinson at 884
and also 833. See comments to the same effect in the dissenting judgments of
Handler J in In re Conroy, 486 A. 2d
1209 and Brennan and Stevens JJ in Cruzan
v Director, Missouri Department of Health, 110 S.Ct. 2841.
. Note the
distinction drawn by Dworkin between experiential and critical interests: R.
Dworkin , Life’s Dominion (London:
Harper Collins, 1993, at 199-217, and the discussion of this distinction in the
context of PVS patients by Andrew Grubb in Incompetent
Patient (PVS): Withdrawal of feeding (Scotland): Med. Law Rev. 4 (Autumn
1996), 300, at 309-311).
. For a
philosophical examination of the different approaches taken to ‘dying with
dignity’ in the USA, Canada, Britain and Israel, see R .Cohen-Almagor: Reflections on the intriguing issue of the right to die in dignity:
Israel Law Review: Vol. 29, No. 4 (Autumn 1995)
. In Cruzan (supra), the US
Supreme Court cited Youngberg v Romeo,
457 US 307 at 321: “...whether
respondent’s constitutional rights have been violated must be determined by
balancing his liberty interests against the relevant state interests”, and
this balancing exercise was important in the decision in Cruzan. But the court there, faced with the limited question of the
constitutionality of Missouri’s law, did not need to, and did not, ask what Nancy Cruzan’s persisting
interests were, or whether they made her continued biological existence legally
. In re Conroy, 486 A. 2d 1209 the New
Jersey Supreme Court said that withdrawal of treatment could be justified only
if continued treatment was going to inflict severe pain. The identified
interests were therefore the (presumed) interest in continued existence and the
interest in not suffering. Cited E.J.Emanuel, What criteria should guide decision makers for incompetent patients?
Lancet 1988; 1, 170-171.
. For a
discussion of human rights law issues in this and similar cases, see A.
Maclean: Crossing the Rubicon on the
human rights ferry: (2001) MLR Vol. 64 No. 5: 775-794
submissions are summarised at 380.
.  EWHC 1879 (Admin). His comments
in the context of insensate patients were technically obiter.
. See Keenan v United
Kingdom (2001) 33 EHRR 913; R v Broadmoor
Special Hospital Authority ex p Wilkinson  1 WLR 419
. Re. F (Mental Patient: Sterilisation)
 2 AC 1, per Lord Goff at 72. Also see Lord Browne-Wilkinson in Bland, supra, at 884-885
. See M at
375, para. 26
. See, for
example, the judgment of Laws J in R v Cambridge Health
Authority ex p B (1995) 25 BMLR
example in R v Cambridge Health
Authority ex p B  2All ER
129; (1995) 23 BMLR 1; R v Secretary of
State for Social Services ex p Hincks (1980) 1 BMLR 93; R v Central Birmingham Health Authority ex p
Walker (1992) BMLR 32
MacNair J’s direction to the jury in Bolam
v Friern Hospital Management
Committee  1 WLR 582.
. From Associated Provincial Picture Houses v
Wednesbury Corporation  1 KB 223
at 379, para. 41
attempt in Bland to say that Tony
Bland had an interest in ending the distress to others caused by his condition
was given short shrift: see Lord Mustill at 897.
 This is so,
in the terms in which Article 8 understands enjoyment, even if A devoutly
wishes the physical death of B. Whether there has been a breach of Article 8 by the withdrawal of treatment might depend on
A’s feelings: it is unlikely that A’s feelings are relevant to Article 8’s engagement.
 In the case
of Baby K, an anencephalic, an American court said that the mother’s request
that the child should continue to be ventilated should be respected, even
though physicians had said it was futile. Insofar as this amounts to a
relative’s right of veto over clinicians’ decisions, this must be vie.wed as eccentric. This was a decision under the Americans with
Disabilities Act 1990, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against persons
with disabilities. Cited in K.E. Schrode
, Life in limbo: revising policies for
permanently unconscious patients. Houston Law Rev. 1995; 51, 439
. See, for
example, the guidelines of the General Medical Council: Withholding and withdrawing life-prolonging treatments: Good practice
in decision-making: August 2002: Clauses 15, 17, 20, 21, 26, 32, 40, 54,
56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 64, 80, 81, 82 and 95. Clause 80 illustrates the tenor
of the guidelines. It states: “In
deciding which of the options for providing artificial nutrition or hydration
are appropriate in meeting a patient’s assessed need, you must ensure that the
patient (where able to decide), the health care team, and those close to the
patient (where the patient’s wishes cannot be determined), are fully involved
in the decision making. You should take appropriate steps to help those
participating in the decision making to understand your assessment of the
patient’s requirements for nutrition or hydration, and any uncertainties
underlying the options you consider appropriate for meeting those needs.”
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