Glass v. the United Kingdom |2004

A mother’s fight for her child’s life leads to better guidance on parental consent to treatment

. . . David refused to die.

Quoted from David Glass’s life story


David Glass was born with severe mental and physical disabilities. In 1998, he was taken to hospital several times because of complications from an operation. 

As David’s condition grew worse, doctors became convinced that he was dying. In their opinion, continued intensive care, beyond the use of morphine to lessen David’s distress, would be wrong.

David’s mother Carol strongly disagreed. She felt that her son would recover. Carol opposed the use of morphine and insisted that doctors resuscitate David if necessary. 

But without Carol knowing it, the doctors placed a “Do Not Resuscitate” note in David’s medical file. At a critical stage, they also treated him with morphine, despite the family’s objections. 

David’s condition rapidly deteriorated. A scuffle broke out between some family members and the doctors, who were still insisting that David should not be revived. During the struggle, Carol was able to successfully resuscitate her son. 

David’s condition improved and he was able to leave hospital the same day. 

Carol applied for a full legal review of the decisions taken by the hospital concerning her son’s treatment, but the UK courts did not approve her request. 

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the decision to override Carol’s objections to David’s proposed treatment – without a court order, as was required by UK law – resulted in a breach of both Carol and David’s rights. 


In April 2005, the Chief Executive of the UK National Health Service (NHS) alerted senior NHS leaders to the European court’s judgment in David and Carol’s case, reminding them of the relevant legal framework and the circumstances in which doctors need to contact courts when parents object to proposed treatment for their children.

In 2009, the UK authorities issued revised and updated guidance relating to parents’ consent to treatment.