16 February 2024, The Tablet

Priest and neurologist vindicated for ‘pro-life’ opinion in end-of-life case

by Joe Bukuras, CNA

Priest and neurologist vindicated for ‘pro-life’ opinion in end-of-life case

Father Patrick Pullicino, an English Catholic priest and neurologist, has been vindicated after being investigated by a UK medical regulation agency for giving his expert opinion in an emergency end-of-life case.
Christian Concern

Father Patrick Pullicino, an English Catholic priest and neurologist, has been vindicated after being investigated by a UK medical regulation agency for giving his expert opinion in an emergency end-of-life case in which he called for further tests before cutting off a hospitalised man’s nutrition and hydration.

The man, referred to as “RS”, ultimately died in 2020 amid legal battles between his family and the hospital over his fate. 

But shortly after the man’s death, a complaint was brought against Pullicino in 2021 accusing the priest of bias because of his Catholic and “pro-life values,” according to Christian Concern, the advocacy organisation that defended the priest.

Pullicino was subsequently investigated by the General Medical Council in early 2021, and this month he was exonerated.

“No evidence was adduced to support the allegation that Dr Pullicino’s religious faith or personal beliefs affected his opinion on Patient RS,” the council said in its decision, according to Christian Concern.

“Dr Pullicino is an experienced consultant neurologist with specialist registration and a licence to practise, and we have no evidence to suggest that he lacks competence to assess a patient’s level of consciousness,” the decision said.

“We do not have evidence to support an allegation that [his medical opinion] was inaccurate,” the council said. “We conclude that there is no realistic prospect of proving these allegations and they are concluded with no action.”

Pullicino said in Christian Concern’s press release that he is “relieved” at the decision and added that the complaint an “attack” on his medical opinion “because I am a Catholic priest and believe medical professionals should do everything possible to save another human’s life.”

He added,“The GMC should never have allowed an investigation to proceed against me, which was so  clearly targeted against and based on my religious beliefs.”

In November 2020, RS, a middle-aged man from Poland but living in the UK, had a massive heart attack, leaving him with brain damage and in a coma.

Doctors at the University Hospital Plymouth NHS Trust decided that it would be best to stop sustaining his life through hydration and nutrients. 

Some members of RS’s family disagreed.

To solve the dispute, the matter went before the Court of Protection, the legal body responsible for making financial or “welfare” decisions on behalf of those who can’t make decisions for themselves.

That court sided with the hospital system and cut off his nutrients and hydration.

RS’s sister and niece were allowed to visit him in the hospital to say their goodbyes on Christmas Day, one day after the hospital cut off nutrition and fluids, according to Christian Concern. 

When the two women saw him, they were “astonished” at the improvement in his “awareness,” the advocacy group wrote, adding that “he appeared to recognise them and began to cry”.

The women immediately sought the counsel of Pullicino, the neurologist and South Wales-based priest. 

Pullicino told the family in a letter to make an emergency application to the Court of Protection to restore nutrients and hydration to RS and to instruct Pullicino to make a video examination of RS, according to Christian Concern. 

Pullicino watched three minutes of video to examine RS, according to one of the court decisions in the case.

In the letter to the family, Pullicino told them that RS showed “a clear emotional response to the presence of the family members” and that a “proper neurological assessment would require further observation over a period of time”, that court decision said.

In response to the family’s request, the Court of Protection ordered the temporary continuation of hydration and nutrition of RS pending the adjudication of the application given the new evidence, Christian Concern said.

The judge ruled against the family and wrote in his Jan. 31, 2020, decision that “it is not in his best interests for life-sustaining treatment to be given.”

Poland’s government also attempted to save the man’s life and arrange for a full examination, Christian Concern wrote. 

The Polish government granted RS “diplomatic status” so its London-based embassy could gain access to him, according to the organisation. 

Additionally, a Polish court appointed RS’s sister in Poland to be his guardian and ordered RS’s return to the country for treatment. 

The Plymouth hospital, with the backing of the Court of Protection, banned any Polish authorities from visiting RS, according to Christian Concern. 

RS died on Jan. 26, 2021, from dehydration and starvation, according to the organisation. 

After RS’s death, the investigation into Pullicino commenced as a result of a complainant who accused Pullicino of bias because of his Catholic faith. The complainant wrote that because of his bias, he “may have deliberately misdiagnosed the patient in the hope of saving his life”, according to Christian Concern.

CNA asked the complainant for a copy of the complaint yesterday but did not get a response. 

“The irony should not escape us that this is a doctor under investigation for actually trying to save a life,” said Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre.


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