Health

Brain-damaged woman 'would not want to live'

Artificial nutrition
Image caption 'M' is currently being fed artificially

The sister of a severely brain-damaged woman has told a judge that she would not have wanted to live a life totally dependent on others.

The Court of Protection is hearing an application that feeding tubes be withdrawn from the 51-year-old woman known only as M.

M, who is lives in a care home in the north of England, suffered brain damage in 2003 after a viral infection.

She is in what is known as a minimally conscious state.

The court heard that M receives "exceptional and dedicated" treatment at the care home.

The family lawyer said they were here because of the clearly and consistently expressed views of M, who was not religious, that she would never want to live a life dependent on others, even if she retained her mental faculties.

The family are asking a judge at the Court of Protection to allow M to die through the withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration.

The official solicitor, who opposes the application, said he was satisfied that M's mother, sister and partner love her a great deal and they genuinely believe they are acting in her best interests.

M's sister wept as she told the court that she missed her very much. She described how, prior to her illness, M had been a very active woman.

She said M had been fiercely independent.

"I know in my heart she would not want to live like that" she said.

"What can she possibly get out of life? She can't move, speak and she's fed through a tube. She can't even enjoy a cup of tea.

"She has no pleasure in life. There's no dignity in it. It's not a life, it's an existence and I know she would not want that."

When told that care staff think that M can communicate by opening her eyes she said it was not anything meaningful.

The hearing is being seen as a test case.

In 1993, the House of Lords ruled that doctors need not keep someone alive if it was viewed that it was of no benefit to the patient. That case involved Tony Bland, a survivor of the Hillsborough football disaster, who was in a persistent vegetative state or PVS.

Patients in PVS have no awareness or consciousness of their surroundings.

But the key difference here is that M is not in a vegetative state but is minimally conscious. Although she is unable to talk, it will be for the court to establish whether she is able to communicate in any meaningful way.

A crucial point for the family is that they believe M is suffering and experiences pain.

The case continues.

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