Lindsey Briggs -v- Paul Briggs (by His Litigation Friend, the Official Solicitor) & OthersPosted: 21st December 2016

Judgement was handed down on 20.12.16 in the case of Briggs v Briggs and others… 

This was a case relating to whether clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH) should be provided to a patient, Graham Briggs, who had previously injured in a road traffic accident. Mr Briggs was not in PVS (permanent vegetative state), unlike many of the cases that have previously considered this issue, but was in a minimally conscious state.

A minimally conscious state effectively means that Mr Briggs was somewhat aware of his surroundings. At times, he could answer yes or no to very simple questions. It was also accepted that, with treatment, he may progress to the point where he could, for example, choose which of two t-shirts to wear.

It was accepted that his life “confers benefit and has value”, but that he did not have the capacity to decide whether or not to continue with CANH himself. If he had such capacity, he would have been allowed to make the decision for himself. Equally, if he had signed an advance directive, a document setting out exactly what his wishes would be in that situation, the Court confirmed that it would have given effect to that. If he had signed a Lasting Power of Attorney in favour of someone else, giving them the power to make the decision, they would have been permitted to do so.

But, like many of us, Mr Briggs had not completed any of these documents and therefore the Court had to decide whether to continue with or withdraw the CANH or not. The judge, Mr Justice Charles held that, although the arguments for the preservation of life were strong, they do not override everything else. In particular, and having listened to evidence given by several members of Mr Briggs’ family and his friends, he concluded that Mr Briggs would have decided, if he could, not to continue with CANH.

On that basis he concluded that CANH should be withdrawn. He stressed that this was not a case in which it was sought to bring about Mr Briggs’ death, but that his death would be a known side effect of the withdrawal of the CANH. In the judge’s words: “It is not whether it is in the best interests of the patient that he should die but whether it is in the best interests of the patient that his life should be prolonged by the relevant treatment and care”. This is a sensitive and well written judgement which makes very interesting reading.