A terminally ill man was “ecstatic” today after winning a groundbreaking legal ruling clarifying the rights of chronically ill patients over life-sustaining treatment.

Terminally ill Leslie Burke, 44, of Lancaster, who has a degenerative brain condition, had taken his case to the High Court in London because he feared that his wish to go on living until he dies naturally could be overridden under current General Medical Council guidelines.

A High Court judge today announced that although the bulk of the GMC’s guidance on the withholding and withdrawing of life-prolonging treatments was a “compelling piece of work”, which should greatly reassure patients and their relatives, he ruled that parts of it were “unlawful”.

Mr Burke, speaking from his home after Mr Justice Munby’s judgment, said that “overall I am just ecstatic”, adding: “It just seems like a great weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Mr Burke was granted six declarations, the first of which was that: “Any decision by the Claimant (Mr Burke) while competent, or contained in a valid advance directive, that he requires to be provided with artificial nutrition and hydration is determinative that such provision is in the best interests of the Claimant at least in circumstances where death is not imminent and the Claimant is not comatose.”

Mr Burke’s solicitor, Paul Conrathe, of Ormerods Solicitors, Croydon, south London, said after the ruling: “The judgment is a ground breaking judgment.

“The court has accepted Mr Burke’s concerns and decided that the patient, not the doctor, should determine whether it is in the best interests of the patient to receive, or to continue to receive, artificial nutrition and hydration.

“The court also declared that parts of the guidance issued by the General Medical Council on the Withholding and Withdrawal of Life-prolonging Treatment are unlawful.

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