A dogged legal fight to find a peaceful end

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The Independent Online

Life became intolerable for Miss B when a burst blood vessel left her paralysed from the neck down more than a year ago.

Her death when her ventilator was switched off yesterday was the result of her dogged insistence that rehabilitation would not be acceptable to her. She had no desire to continue living without hope of recovery.

The former social-care professional had told the High Court that her quality of life was "unbearable". One of her psychiatrists said: "She values the prospect of remaining on the ventilator and the disabilities associated with it as being worse than being dead."

In the first case of its kind, the court ruled that Miss B, aged 43, who could not be named for legal reasons, had the necessary mental capacity to ask for her life-support equipment to be switched off.

Miss B, who was single and childless, refused an offer to leave the hospital and go to a rehabilitation unit. "My view is that it [rehabilitation] offers me no real opportunity to recover physically," she said. Miss B's doctors had objected to switching off her ventilator on ethical grounds.

Miss B, who came to Britain from Jamaica when she was eight, watched by video link from the hospital as two psychiatrists told the High Court at a hearing last month that she was competent to choose death over life.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, the president of the Family Division of the High Court, asked: "Is it a danger that we ourselves are emotionally involved in this case? None of us would wish to be involved in the death of anyone else." Two weeks later, on 22 March, she ruled that the doctors' treatment of Miss B amounted to unlawful trespass and awarded her nominal damages of £100.

Dame Elizabeth said in her judgment: "I would like to add how impressed I am with [Miss B] as a person, with the great courage, strength of will and determination she has shown in the past year, with her sense of humour and her understanding of the dilemma she has posed to the hospital.

"I hope she will forgive me for saying, diffidently, that if she did reconsider her decision she would have a lot to offer the community at large."

In a statement issued by her solicitors, Miss B said afterwards: "This is a balanced and well thought-out judgment and I am very pleased with the outcome."