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New £1.5m study will investigate what the ‘best interests’ are of patients who lack mental capacity

9 February 2018

A new study that will explore the healthcare decisions made in the “best interests” of patients who are unable to make decisions for themselves because they lack mental capacity or competence has been awarded £1.5 million by the Wellcome Trust.

The five-year study, led by Professor Richard Huxtable at the University of Bristol and an expert in medical ethics, will investigate how the “best interests” of such patients should be understood – which factors and values should be considered, who should be involved, and indeed whether “‘best interests” is even the best approach. The patients include children – as poignantly illustrated in the recent, widely-publicised legal case of Charlie Gard – and adults, including those with learning disabilities, dementia or prolonged disorders of consciousness.

Professor Huxtable in Bristol Medical School will lead the project entitled ‘Balancing Best Interests in Healthcare, Ethics and Law (BABEL)’ with Dr Jon Ives and Dr Giles Birchley from the Centre for Ethics in Medicine in Bristol Medical School, and Dr Judy Laing, the co-director of the Centre for Health, Law and Society in the Law School, and her colleague Dr Sheelagh McGuinness. They will be joined by a broad multi-disciplinary team of researchers, patients and professionals who will contribute to the study.

Professor Huxtable said:

“We are absolutely thrilled that the Wellcome Trust has chosen to support this important project. Best interests decisions are taken daily for thousands of patients and we hope, through our five years of work, to help support and inform everyone involved, from patients to carers to professionals.”

Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President, of the University of Bristol, added:

“Bristol’s expertise in medical ethics and law makes it well placed to conduct this important cross-disciplinary project. We are grateful to the Wellcome Trust for this award that will ultimately help provide the much-needed clarity to those involved in making complex decisions around the best interests of patients.”

The project will begin later in 2018. Further information will be available from Centre for Ethics in Medicine and the Centre for Health, Law and Society.

New £1.5m study will investigate what the ‘best interests’ are of patients who lack mental capacity
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