The recent decision of the Court of Protection in the case of David James is very significant. David James, who is 68 years old, walked into hospital seven months ago with a stomach complaint. While in hospital he contracted pneumonia which led to multiple organ failure. He has been kept alive despite suffering a stroke, a heart attack and kidney problems that have left him unable to speak or to breathe unaided. The hospital applied to the court to refuse “aggressive” treatment, including restarting his heart, if he deteriorated further. It said the potential suffering outweighed his tiny chances of recovery. David’s family opposed the hospital in court saying that David had been put on a controversial end-of-life pathway to free up his intensive care bed.
The judge found for the family saying that while David’s situation is “grim”, the proposed treatment was not “futile or overly burdensome”, as doctors claimed. The judge concluded that, “Although the burdens of treatment are very great indeed, they have to be weighed against the benefits of a continued existence.” He said the doctors had undervalued the limited quality of life David could still enjoy. He described David’s relationship with his family as “of the closest and most meaningful kind” and this carried great weight in his decision. The family said that David smiled when they visited and enjoyed reading the newspaper, listening to music and seeing his grandchildren.
The judge was right in placing a high value on David’s life, even when it is so limited. The sanctity of human life is a very important principle. The lives of babies, disabled people, the chronically ill and the elderly are precious. Some people feel vulnerable today because they fear their lives are not regarded as valuable. They feel they are “dispensable” if the cost of their care is high or they are seen as a burden on society.
We are all precious in God’s sight. He “knit us together in our mother’s womb.” All our days “were written in his book before one of them came to be.” Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, paid the price of our redemption with his own blood on the Cross. Lucy Ann Bennett wrote, “O teach me what it meaneth, that cross uplifted high, with One, the Man of Sorrows, condemned to bleed and die! O teach me what it cost Thee, to make a sinner whole; and teach me, Saviour, teach me the value of a soul!”