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Judge rules that man in vegetative state should not be resuscitated if his condition deteriorates

The 78-year-old man's son said his family were 'trying to hang on to him' while giving evidence via video link

A man in a vegetative state should not be resuscitated if his condition deteriorates, a High Court judge has ruled.

A 78-year-old man from the north of England has been in a vegetative or - at best - minimally conscious state since May. Despite his advanced ill health, his family said that in the event of a heart attack, they would prefer him to be kept alive.

The case was heard in the Court of Protection by Mr Justice Mostyn, whose decision last year to order that a woman with bipolar have a Caesarean section was still causing controversy.

The man's sons and ex-wife gave evidence via video link from their home town. One son, who spoke for the family, said they were “trying to hang on to him”. He added: “We aren't medical so we don't know in that way what's best for him. But we would say keep him alive; that's better than a tombstone for us.”

Known only by his initials 'SM,' the man the case centred on was born in Jamaica and has lived in Britain since the Sixties. He was discovered at the bottom of his stairs with a spinal injury in May. He lived alone and it appeared he had fallen down them around two days before he was found.

In the following few weeks he suffered several cardiac arrests, resulting in multiple brain injuries.

The family had fallen out with some staff at the hospital and requested a different consultant was assigned to their father.

At one point during the hearing SM's son interjected to say “They might lose a patient but we might lose a dad.” At another, SM's ex-wife said as an aside of the hospital: “I think they're getting fed up with him and want him to move.”

Handing down his judgement, Justice Mostyn said it was “perfectly clear to me that it would not be in SM's best interests” to undergo resuscitation in the event of a cardiac arrest. He said: “Should this crisis eventuate it is clear there's a significant risk of further mental deterioration of SM, even from the low level he is at at the moment.”

The judge also ordered that SM underwent a thorough test of his mental state and was fitted with a less intrusive feeding tube.