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'Do Not Resuscitate' Violates Patient’s Rights

The Court of Appeal has ruled the failure to consult an individual as to whether a 'Do Not Resuscitate' notice is placed on their medical records is in violation of their human rights.

The Court Judges led by the Master of the Rolls, accepted that decisions about whether to impose Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) notices are “inherently fraught”, but nevertheless the Court held that since such a decision is one which “will potentially deprive the patient of life-saving treatment, there should be a presumption in favour of patient involvement”.

David Tracey took the case to the Court of Appeal to fight for a declaration that the Hospital had breached his late wife Janey’s human rights by not consulting her on this decision. The Court held that the hospital had violated Mrs Tracey’s respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.  

Article 8 was deemed to be engaged in this case because the decision about DNR "concerns how an individual chooses to pass the closing days and moments of her life and how she manages her death”.

The central issue in this ground-breaking case was the engagement of Article 8 which concerns a patient’s personal autonomy, integrity, dignity and quality of life.

Article 8, introduced into our domestic law as part of the Human Rights Act 1998, has wide-ranging application and has often been the subject of controversy in some cases. In this case the Court made clear the engagement of Article 8 was limited to DNR notices and the consultation with the patient.

Mr Tracey also pursued a claim against the Government for the failure to promulgate national guidance on DNR notices. This appeal failed as the Court held for Article 8 to require the formulation of a national policy would represent at “unjustified intrusion into government healthcare policy”.

Overall this decision sends out a significant message in relation to the boundaries of Human Rights Law and how it can make a positive impact on the care provided to our loved ones in their final days.

Zak Golombeck, is a Medical Negligence Solicitor at Pannone, Part of Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester. 

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