Relatives battle the NHS in High Court for right to keep brain-damaged man alive

The family of a man left in a persistent vegetative state after a cardiac arrest pleaded for his right to be kept alive before the High Court yesterday.

Five weeks ago the 55-year-old, who can be identified only as L, suffered a third cardiac arrest which left him severely brain damaged with "no meaningful prospect of further recovery".

Yesterday a barrister for Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust insisted that to resuscitate him in case of a life-threatening event would simply be "prolongation of death and lack of dignity". Because L is considered a vulnerable adult, the health trust went before the Court of Protection, seeking a declaration that it would not be in his best interests to give ventilation or resuscitation.

But his family insists it is "simply too soon" to determine whether his condition is permanent or to declare that his quality of life will be so limited or wretched, as one doctor had concluded, that life-saving treatment would be futile, as "some degree of responsiveness" had been seen.

His son, referred to as Mr Fl, told the court that L had always looked disapproving when he heard about decisions to turn off life support.

Furthermore as devout Muslims, Mr Fl said that "we believe that you prolong life as far as you can go and that you actively take every step to so do".

"My father was very aware of these issues and often when we heard stories in the media about negligence and decisions to turn off life support, he would wince his face and give a look of disapproval. It was a solemn look of disapproval and sadness." L's wife described her husband of almost 40 years as a "happy, loving person and a loving and caring father", part of "a very close family" with several adult children.

The family's lawyers told the court that a "Do not resuscitate" (DNR) notice was placed in his notes without consulting them in contravention of the hospital trust's own policy. They remain adamant that, if he could express his wishes, his faith would mean he would never agree to such an order.

Speaking on behalf of L's wife, solicitor Helen Lewis said: "As a family, they want to be fully involved in the decision-making process so proper regard can be given to how L lived his life and what they believe he would have wanted". But Claire Watson, for the health trust, said it was the unanimous view of clinicians treating L, as well as independent experts, that he had "minimal prospects of improving any neurological function and no meaningful prospect of further recovery".

He is in a high dependency unit, off a ventilator after a tracheostomy to protect his airway, but consultants had said that he would remain profoundly physically and mentally impaired.

An independent expert in intensive care said it was "absolutely unrealistic" to expect any further neurological recovery. Doctors believe that, if L was capable of feeling pain on a basic level, which was difficult to know, he would suffer as he deteriorated.

Ms Watson told Mr Justice Moylan, at the court in London, that doctors agree treatment should be limited to relieving pain and discomfort: "Rather than there being the prolongation of life, there would be the prolongation of death and lack of dignity."