'Legalised murder': Family's fury as judges rule doctors can let organ failure grandad die
The wife of a seriously ill musician who has battled tirelessly to keep doctors treating him wept yesterday as senior judges backed a hospital’s bid to stop trying to save his life.
May James’s husband David, 68, was admitted seven months ago with minor stomach problems but contracted an infection on a ward and suffered multiple organ failure.
Earlier this month, a senior judge rejected a legal bid by doctors not to attempt potentially lifesaving treatment if he deteriorates further, saying it underestimated the value of his ‘continued existence’.
But, only four days before Christmas, Appeal Court judges last night declared – in what they admitted was a ‘sad and harsh’ decision – that the hospital could refuse to treat him.
A tireless fight for life: Seriously ill musician David James, 68, pictured in hospital
Mrs James and daughter Julie, 48, spoke of their shock and disgust at the decision.
Immediately after the hearing Miss James said: ‘He’ll be dead by Christmas. I’m fuming – it’s neglect. As far as I’m concerned it’s legalised murder.’
After the trust’s medical director reassured them there would be no immediate change to Mr James’s treatment, Mrs James said: ‘Surely to God they won’t stop treating him now with it being Christmas? They wouldn’t be that heartless.’
But Miss James said: ‘They’re just bullies, we don’t trust them at all now. It’s just such a heartbreaking decision, I can’t believe they would say that about my dad.
‘But we’re going to keep fighting and we just won’t let them win.’ Mr James walked into hospital in May suffering from constipation but contracted pneumonia on the ward – leading to multiple organ failure.
He has been kept alive ever since despite suffering a stroke, a heart attack and kidney problems which have left him unable to speak or to breathe unaided.
The trust, which cannot be identified for legal reasons, sought permission from the Court of Protection to withhold three ‘aggressive’ forms of treatment if he deteriorated further.
Mrs May James (right) and her daughter Julie (left) arriving at the High court in London, are 'heartbroken'
Doctors said the suffering caused by the treatments – invasive medication to boost his blood pressure, a form of kidney dialysis and cardiopulmonary resuscitation if his heart stops beating – would outweigh the tiny chances of recovery.
They said withholding treatment meant Mr James would eventually suffer further infections, causing him to fall into a coma and die.
Earlier this month Mr Justice Peter Jackson backed his family’s fight against the trust, saying doctors had ‘undervalued’ the limited quality of life he could still enjoy.
But yesterday the trust took its fight to the Court of Appeal in London, arguing the judge had given insufficient weight to the ‘gloomy’ medical outlook.
Giving the panel of judges’ verdict, Lord Justice Ward said they had ‘agonised’ over their decision. He praised the medical team who had cared for Mr James but said ‘clarity was needed’ for the future.
But, in a ‘strong message to the hospital’, he added that the ruling did not absolve the need for doctors to exercise their clinical judgment and to try to reach a consensus with the family if Mr James takes a turn for the worse.
Describing it as ‘a sad and harsh decision’, he concluded: ‘We’re quite satisfied that this is a very sad case indeed where, if it’s necessary and in the clinical judgement of the hospital it’s no longer in the interests of DJ (David James) to engage in this difficult treatment, then the hospital are permitted to refrain from administering it.’
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