End-of-life breakthrough as court case could mean hospitals must inform families
The lawsuit could pave the way for hundreds of other cases against nursing homes and hospitals over consent to death. Tony Stowell, 54, is suing a nursing home that he says sent his 87-year-old mother into end-of-life care without notifying her family. According to his lawyers, Antonia Stowell, 87, was unable to consent due to dementia.
The legal team will argue that Antonia Stowell’s family would not have agreed to end-of-life care had they been asked.
However, the nursing home rejects the application, insisting that it provided the best possible care and adding, “All the proper procedures for providing this care have been followed with precision.”
Mr Stowell visited or called his mother every day – even during quarantine, when he was only allowed to see her through the window.
When he learned in May 2020 of the nursing home’s decision to put her in treatment at the end of her life, he insisted that she be transferred to a hospital, where she later died.
Her medical records indicate that Antonia, a mother of five, was suspected of having pneumonia. Medicines used to treat patients at the end of life have been prescribed.
The family says the decision of Rose Villa’s home in Hull to place her in end-of-life care was made two days before they were informed.
Mr Stowell said: “A week before we were told she was dying, she was smiling and waving at me through the window. She didn’t seem so sick to me. When I found out that she was assigned to lifelong care, I insisted that she be taken to the hospital.”
Fadi Farhat, a human rights lawyer with Gulbenkian Andonian Solicitors who is leading the case, says he has been approached by many families who say end-of-life decisions were made without their consent or consultation.
He said: “Under the law there is a presumption of saving or prolonging life. If a decision is made to provide end-of-life care or a DNR, the patient should consult with the patient or family members.
“The Antonia Stowell case is certainly part of a larger national issue and we have been contacted by dozens of families about their loved ones being retired or receiving DNR orders from different parts of the country.”
Mr Farhat and his team will argue that the decision to place Antonia Stowell in lifelong care violated her human rights because her family was not consulted.
He said: “The Antonia Stowell case is certainly part of a larger national issue and we have been approached by dozens of families about their loved ones being sentenced to death or receiving DNR orders from different parts of the country.”
He added: “These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and those who have contributed the most to society. They should not be subjected to this practice, which has become widespread during the quarantine, when the very medical system and the human rights protection system, created to protect us in the face of the threat, was removed due to the threat – the threat of covid. If the case is successful, we hope it will pave the way for many other similar lawsuits and tighter government controls and a uniform framework around end-of-life consent.”
Caroline Abrahams, director of charity Age UK, said: “Older people, their families and friends need to be able to speak to a healthcare professional to discuss treatment options, get medical advice and include older people in wishes before decision to stop or withhold treatment.
“We have seen several unfortunate and depressing examples of the misuse of DNACPR (DNR) orders during the first wave of the pandemic. Despite the indication to the contrary, we are aware that general rules have been introduced for residents of some nursing homes. We have also heard from seniors and families who were not properly consulted about their wishes or who felt pressured to go along with the order. Any medical decision must always be made on an individual basis, taking into account the medical history and preferences of each patient.
“As we continue to get through the last few months of winter, it is vital that lessons be learned and that older people and families are never subjected to such completely unacceptable acts again.”
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