Ignorance of the law is no defence. It would take you over 400 years to read all of the law that applies today in the UK. None of us can do this. Doctors cannot even read the parts of the law that most affect their practice. Instead we just do what we believe to be right and, generally, if you do this the law will protect you.
If you keep somebody alive because you believe that is the right thing to do the law will protect you. If you allow somebody to die because you believe that is the right thing to do the law will protect you. If you do what you would not naturally believe in your heart of hearts to be right it is likely that there will be a law that will condemn you. When it comes to the practice of medicine our laws are not that bad.
So if a patient with mental health problems arrives in your hospital having taken an overdose with a note pinned to her chest asking you not to treat her you might feel that she should be treated. You wouldn't worry about the Mental Capacity Act because that is there to protect people who are unable to make decisions for themselves not to condemn them. You remember reading that somewhere. In any case you feel sure that saving the patient's life must be the right thing to do.
Time is of the essence so you really should get on with treating your patient. Trawling around the niceties of the law is not an option. Treat and trust that the law will back you is the only sensible way forward.
But just suppose that for some misguided reason somebody in your team decided to check with the hospital's solicitors that it was alright to treat such a patient. What advice would you expect? How do you think they would deal with the apparent conflict between the Mental Capacity Act which requires you to do what the patient wants which is to die with the Suicide Act 1961 which prevents you from aiding and abetting the suicide of another?
The lawyers would, of course, reassure you that there is no conflict between the Mental Capacity Act and the Suicide Act 1961. Nothing in the Mental Capacity Act affects section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961. That should be obvious but to avoid any possible doubt the scope of the Mental Capacity Act was clearly stated in the Act itself:
Which means that section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 applies the key part of which reads:
Scope of the Act
For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby declared that nothing in this Act is to be taken to affect the law relating to murder or manslaughter or the operation of section 2 of the Suicide Act 1961 (c. 60) (assisting suicide).
A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.Which rather means that the doctors who allowed Kerrie Wooltorton to die were rather poorly advised. One thing is for sure. Nobody is going to go to jail over this. Certainly not the solicitors who gave the rotten advice. And the coroner doesn't seem to have got the law right either. Or is Dr Grumble completely wrong? After all he knows nothing about the law.