Parents fight to let frail son die

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A High Court judge is to rule on whether doctors caring for a 23-year-old severely brain-damaged man should be allowed not to attempt resuscitation if he suffers a cardiac arrest.

In a case which centred on the medical profession's guidelines as to when a "do not resuscitate" (DNR) policy is appropriate, medical experts unanimously agreed that the frail five-stone patient would only suffer further injury if the violent resuscitation process were to be carried out and that in such a case it would be in his best interests to let him die.

And they agreed that, if he suffered a serious infection, doctors should consider not giving him antibiotics to prolong his life, but only after consultation with his family.

Sir Stephen Brown, President of the High Court Family Division, today reserved judgment on the case, which has no legal precedent because it involves future decisions as to a patient's treatment rather than immediate withdrawal of life support to allow someone to die in peace.

The man's parents support the doctors' view because they believe their son has an "unacceptable quality of life".

James Munby QC, for the Official Solicitor, said: "The primary consideration is the quality of life after the proposed treatment has been given. The determining factor is whether there will be pain, suffering and stress which is so extreme that the artificial prolongation of life cannot be justified."

But staff at a day-care centre attended by the man - referred to only as "R" - became concerned at the idea of a DNR policy and took the case to court through the Official Solicitor, who stepped in to represent the man's interests.

The parents were present at today's hearing when the judge was told there was no longer any real dispute over the their son's future care. But despite the agreement, it was still for the court to decide whether South Buckinghamshire NHS Trust should have permission to apply the DNR guidelines. The judge said he would give his ruling at a later date.

Adrian Whitfield QC, for the Trust, stressed that the Trust had never operated a "do not treat" policy. DNR related solely to the question of when it was appropriate not to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Mr Whitfield said R was born with dreadful disabilities and still lived "on the level of a new-born infant". The man reacted to pain and distress, and smiled when cuddled and in response to sweet food and music. But it was doubtful whether he could see and there were no signs of his being knowingly aware of his environment.