It often falls to judges to address the most dreadful consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. That was certainly so in a case where the Court of Protection found that keeping a much-loved husband and father on life support would merely serve to prolong his inevitable death.
The man, in his 50s, developed a deep vein thrombosis following a long-haul flight and suffered a heart attack. He was on life support in hospital when he was diagnosed with COVID-19. His condition steadily deteriorated and at least eight unsuccessful attempts had been made to wean him off mechanical ventilation.
Doctors were unanimous in their views that there was no possibility of him making a recovery, so the NHS trust that bore responsibility for his care applied to the Court for authorisation to remove him from life support. If that step were taken, he was expected to die within a matter of minutes.
The trust’s application was opposed by the man’s wife of 23 years and mother of his three children. A strongly religious woman, she argued that it was for God alone to make life or death decisions. She had a deeply held belief in divine healing and hoped that the power of prayer might return her husband to good health.
Ruling on the matter, the Court gave great weight to the wishes and feelings of the wife, whose religious beliefs were shared by her husband. On the basis of medical evidence, however, the Court had no doubt whatsoever that there was no prospect of the man recovering and that maintaining him on life support would be futile, merely prolonging his suffering and eventual death. The Court ruled that, following a final visit by his family, life-sustaining treatment could be lawfully withdrawn.