Court to decide fate of woman in coma

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The Independent Online
A woman who suffered brain damage almost four years ago has no hope of recovery and should be allowed to die "peacefully and with dignity", Scotland's first "right-to-die" legal hearing was told yesterday.

Dr Iain O'Brien told the Court of Session in Edinburgh that he had treated Janet Johnstone, 52, since she lapsed into a coma at Law NHS trust hospital, Lanarkshire, in January 1992. He said he was satisfied that she was in a persistent vegetative state, and had suffered irreparable brain damage.

The hospital, backed by Mrs Johnstone's family, is seeking permission to remove the feeding tube keeping her alive.

Mrs Johnstone was admitted to Law hospital after taking a drugs overdose. Doctors tried to treat her but she suffered two seizures, one of which lasted about 10 minutes, causing brain damage. Since then, she has been kept alive with intensive nursing. She is able to breathe but has to be fed through a tube and turned every two hours.

Dr O'Brien said she appeared to have no idea of what was going on around her. Shedid not respond to stimulus, and had "never shown any ability to communicate". There was no evidence that movements she made were voluntary, and in his opinion her brain had no cognitive function. "The prognosis is hopeless," he said.

In March 1993, he spoke to Mrs Johnstone's husband and daughter about the possibility of allowing her to die. The daughter reluctantly agreed but Mr Johnstone said he still hoped his wife would recover.

There were several meetings over the next year. Finally, in February 1994, the family said they were in favour of removing the feeding tube.

Dr Richard Metcalfe, a consultant neurologist at Glasgow Southern General Hospital, was asked for a second opinion. He said he was satisfied she was in a persistent vegetative state, and rated her chance of improvement as "virtually nil".

The case continues today.