In the latest stage of a protracted court battle, Scotland's top judges agreed in opinions released yesterday that the Court of Session in Edinburgh had the power to make a recommendation that doctors at Law Hospital in Carluke, Lanarkshire, should be allowed to withdraw artificial feeding from Mrs Johnstone, 53. But they said the civil courts could not give doctors immunity from prosecution.
The case - the first in Scotland - has now been referred back to a single judge, Lord Cameron of Lochbroom, who heard evidence earlier and asked for guidance from senior judges. His ruling is expected within the next few weeks.
Mrs Johnstone has been in a coma since taking a drug overdose in January 1992.
Her husband Peter, of Allanton, Lanarkshire, said: "Janet would have wanted to die in peace and with dignity. The decision is taking so long. The whole family has been put under a tremendous strain because of it. I feel so helpless."
The hospital had asked the Court of Session to rule that doctors may "lawfully discontinue" treatment of Mrs Johnstone. However, medical experts, supported by the woman's family, say she is in a persistent vegetative state with no prospect of recovery. However, they are afraid that they could be charged in the criminal courts if they withdraw feeding and let her die.Reuse content