News and comment: Forced treatment in cancer patient’s best interests

In DH NHS Foundation Trust v PS [2010] EWHC 1217 (Fam), Wall P. ruled that it would be lawful to impose treatment on an incompetent cancer patient in her best interests, despite her apparent dissent and lack of co-operation stemming from phobias of hospitals and needles. PS has been diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

PS has “a significant impairment in intellectual functioning as a consequence of a learning disability” and does not pass the test of capacity in ss. 2 and 3 of the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The medical evidence is overwhelming that the surgical procedure (hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy) would be in PS’s best interests.

Wall P. held:

[19] I am further satisfied, given her hospital and needle phobia, that it may well be necessary to sedate PS in order to convey her to hospital, and that the risks of sedation in these circumstances have been appropriately addressed by the Trust. The need for such sedative treatment will only arise if persuasion fails, and I am accordingly satisfied that it is necessary for the trust to authorise such treatment as being in PS’s best interests, and to use force if necessary to sedate her and convey her to hospital.

[20] In my judgment, it follows from paragraphs 11 to 14 above, that it will be necessary to detain PS in hospital during the period of post-operative recovery. After mature consideration, the Official Solicitor, on PS’s behalf, came to the view that it was not necessary to invoke the Deprivation of Liberty Provisions under Schedule 1 of the Act. I agree with that analysis. If it is in PS’s interests (as it plainly is) to have the operation, it is plainly in her interests to recover appropriately from it.

It is not only the treatment that must be in PS’s best interests under the MCA, but the sedation and/or force needed in order to perform it. In other words, sedative and forcible treatment must be in the patient’s best interests. It is possible for a treatment to be in an incompetent patient’s best interests, but for forcible treatment not to be; this is the most charitable explanation of Sir Stephen Brown P.’s decision in Re D (Medical Treatment: Mentally Disabled Patient) [1998] 2 FLR 22 that continued dialysis would no longer be in the best interests of an incompetent man who was unable to co-operate with his treatment (see Andrew Grubb’s commentary on Re D at (1998) 6 Med L Rev 103 (Athens login required)). A clear statement of this principle will have to await a case with less time pressure (see, for example, Trust A and Trust B v H (An Adult Patient) [2006] EWHC 1230, [27] (Fam) making a similar point in the context of the use of restraint). The gist of the present judgement is that the surgery is so overwhelmingly in PS’s best interests that the use of sedation and force needed to achieve this–which has been carefully considered by a multi-disciplinary team–is also in her best interests.

This story is on the front page of the Telegraph tomorrow.

Update on 5 August 2010: I have posted a comment criticising a rather misleading blog post about this case on Bioethics Forum.

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