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In response to a UK patient requesting that doctors turn off her pacemaker

In response to the news that a UK patient has requested that doctors turn off her pacemaker, Davina Hehir, Dignity in Dying’s Director of Legal Strategy and Policy said:

“The law is very clear that a mentally competent adult has the right to refuse medical treatment, even if that decision will result in their death. Nina Adamowicz’s request for her pacemaker to be turned off clearly falls within the right to refuse treatment – it was not a request for euthanasia or assisted dying. However this case is ground-breaking within the UK because the treatment being refused – the pacemaker – was implanted within the patient’s body. Healthcare professionals and the courts are more used to patients refusing treatments such as artificial ventilation, artificial hydration and nutrition or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).”

“In the light of advances in medical technology, and given thousands of people in the UK now have pacemakers, it seems likely that requests like Nina Adamowicz’s will become more common”

Did you know?

  • The Mental Capacity Act 2005 gave statutory force to the existing common law right of mentally competent adults to refuse life sustaining treatment.
  • Euthanasia is when a doctor takes a deliberate action, typically administering an injection of life-ending drugs to a patient, in order to end their life.
  • The courts recognise that a doctor turning off life-sustaining technology, for example, artificial ventilation or in this case, a pacemaker, at the request of a mentally competent patient who fully understands the consequences of their decision is not euthanasia, it is respecting the competent patient’s decision to refuse treatment.

If you would like to know more about your rights to refuse treatment under the current law please visit our sister charity, Compassion in Dying.

For media enquiries, please contact Ellie Ball on / 07725433025