Socialite who lost her 'sparkle' has the right to die, court rules

A ruling said the 50-year-old, known as 'C', had the mental capacity to decide to effectively end her life

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The Independent Online

For “C”, the opinion of her doctors that she was likely to recover from her life-threatening kidney condition offered no comfort. As a 50-year-old socialite obsessed with youth and luxury while mired in debt and the lethal legacy of a suicide attempt, she has no interest in a life without “sparkle”.

It is a view of life which a High Court judge accepted much of society will consider to be “unreasonable, illogical or even immoral”. But ultimately, the judge decided this week, it forms no basis for interfering with C’s right to refuse the treatment that keeps her alive. 

Campaigners expressed concern at the extraordinary “right to die” case of the woman, after she won a ruling that she had sufficient mental capacity to decide to end her life because she could not cope with the idea of growing old and having fewer material possessions. 

The woman, who was married four times and had numerous lovers, frequently ditched husbands and boyfriends if it became clear they could no longer afford to support her “reckless” spending.

The Court of Protection heard that following a breast cancer diagnosis and then the failure of her latest relationship this summer which left her indebted, she took an overdose of painkillers washed down with Veuve Clicquot champagne.

Doctors at King’s College Hospital in south London told C, who cannot be named for legal reasons, that her chances of a complete recovery from liver and kidney damage caused by her suicide attempt, which had left her needing frequent dialysis, were high. 

But when it became clear that her recovery was taking longer than anticipated and there was a small chance it may never come to fruition, the mother-of-three told medics that she preferred to die rather than lose her previous lifestyle to “live in a council flat” and “be poor”.

She told one psychiatrist: “I know that I could get better; I know that I could live without a health problem, but I don’t want it; I’ve lost my home; I’ve lost everything I’d worked for; I’ve had a good innings.”

The decision was backed by C’s two eldest daughters. They told the court she had been “an entirely reluctant and at times completely indifferent mother”, and they accepted her argument that she would rather die if she could not regain her “sparkle” – defined as her “expensive, material and looks-orientated social life”.

The hospital had sought a ruling that C was suffering from a personality disorder and lacked the mental capacity to refuse dialysis. Without the procedure, doctors said it was unlikely the woman would live for more than a week.

In a ruling published this week, Mr Justice MacDonald said C had led a life “characterised by impulsive and self-centred decision-making without guilt or regret”.

He added: “C is, as all who know her and C herself appears to agree, a person who seeks to live life entirely, and unapologetically on her own terms; that life revolving largely around her looks, men, material possessions and ‘living the high life’.”

The judge said that while C’s decision was “unwise” and would “alarm and possibly horrify many”, she was acting within her own narcissistic value system – and was not lacking the faculties to make her decision. He said: “C is, in respect of her own body and mind, sovereign.”

Legal experts said that the ruling had no implications for the ongoing debate about assisted suicide in Britain. It merely upheld the long-standing principle that an individual has the right to choose to refuse medical treatment, even if it results in death.

But campaigners in favour of improved palliative care said the case nonetheless raised issues about the flexibility being shown by the courts in mental capacity hearings. 

Alistair Thompson, of the Care Not Killing Alliance, said: “The judge found that someone who wanted to die because she had lost her ‘sparkle’ had mental capacity. This is not someone who is terminally ill. There needs to be debate about whether within the whole area of capacity we should be better helping people who are suicidal.”

Mr Justice MacDonald underlined that his ruling “should not prevent [C’s] doctors from continuing to seek to… persuade her of the benefits of receiving life-saving treatment”.

In their own words: ‘C’ and her daughter

“C”: “It comes from within. I don’t want to fight for it. I don’t want to be a burden. I’ve been through so much. I don’t think mentally I’ll be the same… It would be nice if they could give me some choice. I am not getting any choice. I am getting wheeled along. It’s a bit unfair.” (Based on consultation with a representative of the Official Solicitor)

“V” (one of C’s three daughters): “My mother would never have wanted to live at all costs… Her unwillingness to consider ‘a life she would find tolerable’ is not a sign that she lacks capacity; it is a sign that what she would consider tolerable is different from what others might. She does not want any life that is on offer to her at this stage. Put bluntly, her life has always revolved around her looks, men, and material possessions. 

“‘Recovery’ to her does not just relate to her kidney function, but to regaining her ‘sparkle’ (her expensive, material and looks-orientated social life) which she believes she is too old to regain... Her entire identity has been built around being a self-described ‘vivacious and sociable person who lives life to the full and enjoys having fun’.”