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Published online: 2023-08-31

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Why is the approach to discontinuing life-sustaining treatment different in the UK and Poland? Based on the case of RS

Marcin Paweł Ferdynus1

Abstract

The discontinuation of life-sustaining therapy has been the subject of dispute for many years. Despite the guidelines, which were created to facilitate the resolution of disputes between the doctor (hospital) and the patient (family, surrogate), new cases of seriously ill patients continue to emerge and stir up controversy. One such case was the RS case. A Polish citizen living in the UK suffered severe brain damage as a result of cardiac arrest. The hospital applied to the court to withdraw ventilation, hydration, and nutrition for RS. The judge ultimately ruled that it was in RS’s best interest to withdraw ventilation and nutrition, but he left the decision on hydration to RS’s wife and the hospital. The court’s ruling has stirred up controversy among the Polish public. Some Polish doctors assessed the UK court’s decision as “legal murder” and “euthanasia”. I believe that it is worth examining the RS case for at least two reasons. Firstly, it provides a better understanding of the difference in approaches to therapy cessation in the UK and Poland. Secondly, many Poles live in the UK, and therefore similar disputes may arise in the future. In this paper, I point out several differences between the British and Polish approaches to discontinuing life-sustaining therapy. These differences are focused on the definitions of medical futility and persistent therapy, best interest and dignity, and quality of life and sanctity of life.

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