Judges to review right-to-die case

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The Independent Online
Three senior Scottish judges are to consider the case of a coma victim - the first right-to-die case in Scotland - because of the legal issues it raises.

The move, announced yesterday, means a delay in any decision in the case of Janet Johnstone, who has been in a coma for nearly four years.

Law Hospital NHS Trust, in Lanarkshire, is seeking a declaration that it would be lawful for it to stop artificially feeding Mrs Johnstone, 52, who doctors say is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

But Lord Cameron of Loch Broom told the Court of Session in Edinburgh yesterday that he would not be issuing a judgment after nearly two-and- a-half days of evidence and legal argument. Instead, he is to make a report which the Inner House of senior judges will consider.

The NHS trust has also asked Scotland's top law officer, the Lord Advocate, to clarify his position on whether a doctor who stops treating a patient would be granted immunity from prosecution for murder or culpable homicide.

Lord Cameron announced that he would make a report to the Inner House after hearing argument from the Lord Advocate. "It would be inappropriate for me to express an opinion by way of judgment on the factual material and the legal issues raised," he said.

"These are novel and raise most important matters of public policy and indeed policy for this court. I can intimate I will be reporting this matter to the Inner House and will do so as soon as may be."

The Lord Advocate, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, had suggested such a course of action at the beginning of his argument. He said it was not his intention to frustrate the action which the doctors at Law Hospital wanted to take but he had to ensure that it was legally competent. This was only fair to doctors and the patient's relatives. If the court could not grant permission in such a case then it was a matter for Parliament itself.

Lord Mackay said Scotland was now out of step with the situation in England where there was a judgment from the House of Lords in the case of the Hillsborough victim Tony Bland. This was a problem which had to be put right, he said.