The Court of Protection: the power to order life or death treatment

A senior Judge has ordered that a woman suffering from schizophrenia who does not believe she has a life threatening cancer can now undergo a risky operation that could save her life despite it being against her wishes.

The woman was deemed to lack the capacity to make critical decisions regarding medical treatment by herself, however her three sons said they wanted her to live and doctors believed the operation was worth the risk. As a result Mr Justice Holman who was sitting in the Court of Protection agreed that she could have surgery before the tumours spread.

The Court of Protection has the power to order life or death treatment for people who lack the necessary mental capacity.

The woman is suffering with cancer of the uterus together with other illnesses which make the operation and post operation recovery more risky. The Judge stressed: “No one, or any court, can order or require any doctor to take any step. The court can only permit it.”

The court heard that the 61-year-old woman was suffering from a severe mental order. In addition to this she has asthma and diabetes, and has delusions that she is still a lot younger than she is.

The woman, who has been named as Mrs K denies that she has cancer and strongly believes that she is not suffering from the disease.

Doctors said if her disease was to go untreated it could spread to her other organs causing her “pain and indignity before death”.

The Official Solicitor appointed to protect the woman’s best interests believed the surgery was “too risky” because it carried a 5 to 10 per cent chance of death.

However, doctors, and the woman’s adult sons, strongly desired she have the operation and believe that the potential benefit to her outweighs the potential risk, the judge agreed and sided with this opinion. The Judge ruled that the surgery would be lawful despite the woman’s refusal to consent to the treatment.

Mr Justice Holman concluded: “Assuming the surgery takes place it is of course my fervent hope that it proceeds as smoothly as possible to a good outcome for Mrs K.