Woman kept alive for 21 years can die, judge rules

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A woman artificially kept alive for 21 years after suffering brain damage in childbirth has been allowed to "die with dignity" in what is believed to be the longest case of its kind.

A woman artificially kept alive for 21 years after suffering brain damage in childbirth has been allowed to "die with dignity" in what is believed to be the longest case of its kind.

The 54-year-old woman has been in a "permanent vegetative state" ever since giving birth to her son on New Year's Eve 1978. But yesterday, a High Court judge accepted the family's wish that she should be allowed to die. Mr Justice Johnson said her family had accepted that her soul was "in limbo" and that it was time for it to be released.

The judge was told that the woman's 74-year-old husband believed she would have wanted to have been around for the 21st birthday of their child in December, but now that milestone had been passed the family felt it was in her best interests that no further steps should be taken to maintain her life. The NHS trust in London that is looking after her was given leave to discontinue all life-sustaining treatment and medical support.

The family was able to use the precedent established in the case of Tony Bland, who was 18 when he fell into a persistent vegetative state after being injured at the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. The House of Lords allowed doctors to withdraw artificial nutrition in 1993.

However, the Official Solicitor, Laurence Oates, who represented the woman in yesterday's case, said it was important to distinguish between that and the case of a 19-month-old boy whose family had pleaded for treatment to keep him alive. On Wednesday, Mr Justice Cazalet ruled that prolonging the child's life was not in his best interests because he suffered from an irreversible lung disease. In the doctors' opinion an attempt at artificial resuscitation would cause further pain.

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