Father Patrick Pullicino, an English Catholic priest and neurologist, has been vindicated after being investigated by a U.K. 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 hospitalized 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 by an academic researcher and end-of-life planning advocate in 2021 accusing the priest of bias because of his Catholic and “pro-life values,” according to Christian Concern, the advocacy organization that defended the priest.

Pullicino was subsequently investigated by the U.K.’s General Medical Council (GMC) in early 2021, and this month he was finally 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 license to practice, 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 “was a clear discriminatory 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.”

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

The hospitalized man

In November 2020, RS, a middle-aged man from Poland but living in the U.K., 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. RS’s wife agreed, but some members of RS’s birth family disagreed.

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

That court allowed the hospital system to cut off his nutrients and hydration.

After some members of RS’s birth family lost an appeal, 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 recognize 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.” That decision was reaffirmed on Jan. 13, 2021.

Poland’s intervention

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 organization.

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 organization.


After RS’s death, the investigation into Pullicino commenced as a result of a complaint by Celia Kitzinger, who co-directs an organization that observes hearings in the Court of Protection.

Kitzinger sat in on a series of hearings related to RS’s life, one of which where Pullicino was a witness.

In her formal complaint, she accused Pullicino’s evidence in court as “vague, biased, and frankly dishonest.” She said that Pullicino’s estimation in court that video clips showed RS being, or becoming, “minimally conscious” were contrary to the ruling of an independent expert who also viewed the clips and disagreed.

She quoted the judge’s ruling in the decision in which he said some of Pullicino’s evidence was “unaccountably vague” and was “concerned about the level of his objectivity.”

Kitzinger said her concern is that Pullicino’s involvement ​“caused harm” to RS and that “his actions undermined public confidence in doctors.”

“It seems that Dr. Pullicino allowed himself to be used as the tool of a religious campaigning group and found himself colluding with ‘pro-life’ activists to produce an outcome-driven re-diagnosis of a patient in an attempt to reverse the decision of the court to withdraw treatment,” she wrote in the complaint.

Kitzinger mentioned some “speculative possibilities” for Pullicino’s actions in her complaint, including that he may not have had access to all relevant information or was inexperienced.

She also mentioned that he could have been biased “because of his own ‘pro-life’ values” or “may have deliberately misdiagnosed the patient in the hope of saving his life,” adding that “it is hard to believe that this would be the case.”

Kitzinger told CNA that she disputes the characterization of her as an “assisted suicide campaigner” in Christian Concern’s press release, saying that she has “never campaigned for assisted dying” and did not target Pullicino because of his Catholic faith.

Christian Concern said it stands by its characterizations of Kitzinger in its release, maintaining its accusations.


After Pullicino’s win, the Christian Legal Centre, which defended him, celebrated and warned against the General Medical Council’s actions.

“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.

“In a world where truth is becoming stranger than fiction, we are now seeing doctors who work to save lives becoming the ones investigated by the GMC. This tells us something about the culture of the GMC,” Williams said.

Williams continued that the length of the case was “deeply disturbing” and said it “highlights the growing pressure on medical professionals not to break ranks with their colleagues who had taken a controversial decision to end a patient’s life.”

She called the case against Pullicino a “targeted attack” and called for “more doctors and experts who are prepared to be fearless in defending the patient’s right to life.”