Death plea case rejected by judge


Yogi Amin representing M's family, said they were "deeply disappointed with the judgement"

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A High Court judge has ruled that a brain-damaged woman should not be allowed to die, in what is being seen as a landmark case.

The woman, who is 52 and can be referred to only as M, is in what is known as a "minimally conscious state".

Her family argued she was in pain and that artificial feeding and hydration should be withdrawn.

The Official Solicitor and the health authority responsible for her care opposed the application.

Mr Justice Baker, who heard legal argument during a Court of Protection hearing in London in July, said the case was unique and raised "very important issues of principle".

Edge of awareness

M had "some positive experiences", he said, and there was a "reasonable prospect" that those experiences could be extended.

Mr Justice Baker said: "The factor which does carry substantial weight, in my judgement, is the preservation of life. Although not an absolute rule, the law regards the preservation of life as a fundamental principle."

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Those on both sides of this argument can draw comfort from the judgement”

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A spokesman for the law firm representing M's family said the law had been clarified.

Yogi Amin, a partner with the law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: "This is a very important judgment. The law has been clarified and, going forward, in all such cases of patients who are in a minimally conscious state, the High Court does now have the power to decide on whether it is in that patient's best interests for treatment to continue, or whether the patient should be allowed to die naturally, with dignity."

M became severely brain damaged eight-and-a-half years ago. She is unable to talk and had been thought to be in a vegetative state, with no awareness or consciousness of her surroundings.

However subsequent tests indicated that she is in a "minimally conscious state" - on the edge of awareness.

She is now being looked after in a care home in the north of England.

Relatives wanted life-supporting treatment to be withdrawn, saying she would not want to live "a life dependent on others".

But a lawyer appointed by the High Court to represent the woman opposed their application for nutrition to be withdrawn, saying she is "otherwise clinically stable".

The local health authority responsible for commissioning her care also opposed the application, saying the 52-year-old's life was "not without positive elements".

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 was crucial in determining that feeding tubes could be regarded as medical treatment.

Since 1993, a total of 43 patients in a persistent vegetative state, or PVS, have died after a judge ordered that treatment could be withdrawn.

This case is different because M is minimally conscious.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    My heart goes out to M and her family. You are not alone. My sister suffered a similar fate with massive brain injury despite her own previously expressed strong values and beliefs. I am now doing research and find that other families have similar experiences - not being consulted about someone's prior views, or finding those views
    overridden. Everyone in my family now has an Advance Decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    I'm with the Judge on this.

    She lives for a few years, a cure is found and she recovers. That is my view.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    Having had personal experience of a brother who was left in a pvs after a car crash - I feel strongly that the "aggressive" care to maintain life functions in somebody utterly destroyed of brain function is irresponsible and - in many cases - almost cruel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    This is not a simple case. To be in a minimally conscious state one of the following must be possible follow simple commands; answer simple "yes" or "no" questions, either verbally or using gestures; speak in a way that can be understood; act in a purposeful way. This indicates a range of cognitive function and awareness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    I think a bit of understanding should be shown for both sides in this very sad case. Her family must be going through hell watching her suffer, but at the same time the judges have a v difficult decision to make. If she has some level of consciousness then its possible she has a wish to live - doubtful maybe but still possible. The law maybe needs to be reviewed but that is another argument.


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