The family of an 81 year old woman kept alive against her will have this week received a £45,000 pay-out after the hospital caring for her misplaced her advanced directive.
An advance directive, also known as a living will, is a legal document allowing a person to identify specific treatment that should not be carried out if they lose the ability to communicate these decisions themselves. They may also identify specific situations in which treatment should not be carried out.
Advance directives allow a person to refuse life-sustaining treatment, in which case it must be in writing, signed by the person making it and by a witness. It must also include a statement that it will apply even if their life is at risk. These documents are legally binding as long as they comply with the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, it is valid, and it applies to the situation at the time.
In this case Brenda Grant had an advance directive drawn up stating that if she suffered from certain ailments or lost mental capacity then treatment should not be given to prolong her life. It also stated that she should not be given food and that any distressing symptoms should be controlled by pain relief, even if this treatment would shorten her life.
In 2012 Mrs Grant suffered a stroke that left her unable to swallow, walk, or talk. She spent almost three months in George Eliot Hospital before being fitted with a stomach peg, meaning she could be fed directly, and then discharged to a nursing home. George Eliot Hospital misplaced her advance directive, losing it within a pile of medical notes. This led to her being fed artificially for 22 months despite her advance directive that refused this type of treatment.
Mrs Grant’s children weren’t initially aware of the advance directive, but were made aware of it by her GP prior to her readmission to hospital. The GP then took the side of the family and helped them argue that the advance directive should be respected. This led to treatment being withdrawn and Mrs Grant passing away four days later.
Mrs Grant’s children decided to take legal advice to highlight the case and avoid the same thing happening to others. The George Eliot Hospital Trust admitted liability, apologised for its failure and agreed to pay the family £45,000 in an out of court settlement.