Introduction – Permanent Vegetative and Minimally Conscious States

Update to main text para 13.1, page 376: Introduction

There have been significant developments in this area in recent months.

The most important is Briggs: a policeman and Gulf War veteran, injured in a traffic accident, remained in a minimally conscious state; his wife brought an application seeking withdrawal of clinically assisted artificial nutrition and hydration. Charles J’s first judgment[1] held that Mrs Briggs was entitled to bring her application for withdrawal under s21A of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. This conclusion may have far reaching consequences for both s21A applications and serious medical treatment cases where a standard authorisation is in place. The judgment is currently under appeal, and dealt with in an update on chapter 5. In the later substantive judgment[2], Charles J granted Mrs Briggs’ application, applying the best interest test to conclude that had Mr Briggs been able to decide the matter for himself, he would not have consented to receive continued treatment by clinically assisted artificial nutrition and hydration.

Hard on the heels of Briggs came Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board v RY & CP[3], in which Hayden J refused to allow withdrawal of life sustaining treatment in a case where unusually, the judge considered that there was no reliable evidence of the patient’s wishes and feelings about whether he would have wanted to receive that treatment or not. It is likely that more such cases will follow.



[1] Briggs v Briggs [2016] EWCOP 48

[2] Ibid.

[3] [016] EWHC 3256 (Fam)