Disabled patient’s right to life claim prompts judicial review in landmark hospital case

The courts will hear the case of a disabled girl who was allegedly refused life-saving medical treatment this month in a landmark case on the right to life for the handicapped.

In the case, N, an 11-year-old girl, was admitted to the Royal London Hospital in East London last year with breathing difficulties. When her breathing stopped, her mother claims she was told by doctors that N should be allowed to die peacefully because it was not worth putting her on a ventilator to support her breathing. N survived after nurses resuscitated her and was then transferred to another London hospital. Her family has been granted a judicial review of the Royal London’s alleged decision in the case.

The Disability Rights Commission (DRC) is to intervene in the hearing under its statutory powers as an interested party. “The case has a wide impact for a large number of disabled people,” commented DRC legal officer Beth Coxon. “What the doctors consider an individual’s quality of life is taken into account in making clinical decisions, and so in a decision whether or not to ventilate or resuscitate they look at whether that person’s life is worth living based on their own perception rather than that individual’s view of their own life.”

The DRC believes that N’s case is far from unique. “We’re saying that the perceived quality of life is not an appropriate factor to consider in these judgements,” she added.