LONDON — Families and doctors of patients in a persistent vegetative state will no longer need permission from a court to withdraw end-of-life care if both the relatives and the doctors agree, Britain’s highest court ruled on Monday.

The accepted practice in Britain has long been that nutrition and fluids could not be withheld from a patient in a vegetative state without the approval of a specialist tribunal, the Court of Protection. But that approval process can take months or years, and cost health authorities thousands of pounds in legal fees.

Decisions on whether to withdraw end-of-life care are made for thousands of patients each year, the National Health Service reported, though it was not clear how many were in a persistent vegetative state, or in how many cases the families and doctors were in agreement.

The Supreme Court ruled that when there was a disagreement, the question would still have to be decided by the Court of Protection.

The case concerned a 52-year-old former financial analyst with extensive brain injury, who was identified in court only as Mr. Y. He never regained consciousness after a cardiac arrest in June 2017, and needed clinically assisted nutrition and hydration to keep him alive.

Experts said that it was highly improbable that he would re-emerge into consciousness, and that even if he did, he would be profoundly disabled. His family and doctors agreed to withdraw his feeding tube and allow him to die.

The National Health Service Trust asked the High Court of Justice to declare that approval from the Court of Protection was not necessary for a decision that the family doctors had agreed on.

While the judge agreed, the official solicitor, a state-appointed lawyer who represents those considered unable to make legal decisions for themselves, appealed on behalf of Mr. Y. The patient died in the intervening period, but the Supreme Court said that the appeal should go ahead because of the general importance of the issues it raised.

In Monday’s judgment, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the decision of the High Court. Justice Jill M. Black, who wrote the court’s ruling, found that no law required taking all end-of-life decisions before judges, that agreement between the family and physician of the patient was sufficient to ensure public confidence in those decisions, and that the new standard would not violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

“No life is to be relinquished easily,” she wrote. “And yet there may come a time when life has to be relinquished because that is in the best interests of the patient.”

The ruling applies to England and Wales, and brings them into line with many other European countries, including Belgium, France, Germany and Portugal, which do not require court orders to withdraw sustenance from patients in a vegetative state.

In Ireland, a court order is required, while in Italy and Israel, the withdrawal of life support is not legally permitted. In the United States, laws vary widely by state.

Care Not Killing, a group that opposes the removal of life support, denounced the ruling, saying that affected patients had brain damage but were not brain-dead.

“Once we accept that death by dehydration is in some brain-damaged people’s ‘best interests’ we are on a very slippery slope indeed,” said Peter Saunders, campaign director of the group. “The Supreme Court has set a dangerous precedent.”

But many doctors and others welcomed the Supreme Court decision, saying that some individuals with severely debilitating illnesses have had to spend longer on life support than necessary because hospitals were reluctant to take on lengthy court procedures and expenses.

The ruling means that families, doctors and hospitals will no longer be “spending months or even years waiting for a court decision,” said Natalie Koussa, the director of partnerships and services at Compassion in Dying, a British charity that prepares people for the end of life.

“It will allow those closest to a person — their loved ones and medical team — to feel supported and empowered to make the right decision for the person.”

Orignially published in NYT.

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