Parents’ wish to treat child’s cancer with Chinese medicine overruled by Family Court

71bl6-vngql-_sl1500_JM (a child), Re [2015] EWHC 2832 (Fam), 7 October 2015 – read judgment

Mostyn J, ruling in the Family Division that a child should receive surgical treatment for bone cancer against the wishes of his parents, has referred to Ian McEwan’s “excellent” novel The Children Act (Jonathan Cape 2014), which is about a 17 year old Jehovah’s Witness refusing a blood transfusion. The judge noted however that the book was in fact “incorrectly titled”:

a question of whether a medical procedure should be forced on a 16 or 17 year old should be sought solely under the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction, and not under the Children Act.

This case on the other hand concerned a ten year old child, J. The NHS Trust sought permission to perform urgent surgery of a serious nature on his right jawbone, where he has a very rare aggressive cancer. Its medical name is a craniofacial osteosarcoma, presenting a tumour in the bone of about 4 inches long and 1½ inches wide. The unambiguous medical evidence before the court was that if it was not removed very soon then in 6 months to a year J would die “a brutal and agonising death”. The oncologist had spelt this out in unflinching detail:

 J will not slip peacefully away. The cancer will likely invade his nerve system affecting basic functions such as speaking, breathing and eating. His head will swell up grotesquely. His eyes may become closed by swelling. A tracheostomy may be needed to allow breathing. Above all, the pain will likely be excruciating.

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“Widespread incompetence” of fertility regulator and clinics lamented by President of Family Division

One-Happy-BabyA and others (In the matter of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008) – read judgment

This case is best summed up in Sir James Munby’s own words:

This judgment relates to a number of cases where much joy but also, sadly, much misery has been caused by the medical brilliance, unhappily allied with the administrative incompetence, of various fertility clinics. The cases I have before me are, there is every reason to fear, only the small tip of a much larger problem.

These cumulative cases

 must raise questions as to the adequacy if not of the  Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s regulation then of the extent of its regulatory powers. That the incompetence to which I refer is, as I have already indicated, administrative rather than medical is only slight consolation, given the profound implications of the parenthood which in far too many cases has been thrown into doubt. This is a matter I shall return to at the end of this judgment.

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Disclosure of medical records breached patient’s human rights – Strasbourg

Hospital-BedL.H. v Latvia [2014] ECHR 453 (29 April 2014) – read judgment

The release of confidential patient details to a state medical institution in the course of her negotiations with a hospital over a lawsuit was an unjustified interference with her right to respect for private life under Article 8.


In 1997 the applicant gave birth at a state hospital in Cēsis. Caesarean section was used, with the applicant’s consent, because uterine rupture had occurred during labour. In the course of that surgery the surgeon performed tubal ligation (surgical contraception) without the applicant’s consent.

In 2005, after her attempt to achieve an out-of-court settlement with the hospital had failed, the applicant initiated civil proceedings against the hospital, seeking to recover damages for the unauthorised tubal ligation. In December of 2006 her claim was upheld and she was awarded compensation in the amount of 10,000 Latvian lati for the unlawful sterilisation. Continue reading

Can we keep our genomes quiet? Some suggestions from the US

DNA database impact on human rights

I have posted previously on the logistical difficulties in legislating against genetic discrimination.

The prospect that genetic information not only affects insurance and employment opportunities is alarming enough. But it has many other implications: it could be used to deny financial backing or loan approval, educational opportunities, sports eligibility, military accession, or adoption eligibility.  At the moment,  the number of documented cases of discrimination on the basis of genetic test results is small. This is probably due to the relatively few conditions for which there are currently definitive genetic tests, coupled with the expense and difficulty of conducting these tests. But genetic discrimination is a time bomb waiting to be triggered and the implications of whole genome sequencing (WGS) are considered in a very interesting and readable report by the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues  Privacy and Progress in Whole Genome Sequencing. 

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Dignity, Death and Deprivation of Liberty: Human Rights in the Court of Protection

Wednesday’s debate on current key topics in the Court of Protection was a hard-hitting discussion on matters which elicit strong views, such as voluntary euthanasia, assisted suicide, the role of “dignity” and “sanctity of life”, and whether the latter two principles can ever be reconciled.

The fact that these are not essentially legal issues was underscored by the inclusion of ethics philosopher on the interventionist panel, Professor Anthony Grayling, who fielded the questions put to him alongside Philip Havers QC and Leigh Day solicitor Richard Stein. A video of the event will shortly be available on the 1 Crown Office Row website so I shall try to refrain from any spoilers, but here is a brief trailer to whet the appetite for a full recapitulation.

The evening started with a consideration of the Nicklinson and Martin cases, on voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide respectively. There were a number of questions put to the panel which essentially rolled up into this:

Should voluntary euthanasia be a possible defence to murder, or can we justify action with a primary purpose of killing a person on the grounds of preventing that person’s harm or suffering?

The panel was broadly in agreement that it should. Richard Stein observed that the argument that there can never be adequate safeguards to protect the vulnerable  is being used as a “smokescreen”, and, equally, the notion that disabled people cannot exercise their free will to die because it reduces the value of disabled lives is a “hugely patronising” one. Continue reading