Life law faces first Human Rights Act challenge

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The Independent Online

The first right-to-life case went to the High Court yesterday to test the affects of the Human Rights Act on courts' rights to allow doctors to withdraw life support from "living death" patients.

The first right-to-life case went to the High Court yesterday to test the affects of the Human Rights Act on courts' rights to allow doctors to withdraw life support from "living death" patients.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the High Court Family Division, has been asked to rule whether the Act, introduced on Monday, affected applications for withdrawal of support from two patients in a permanent vegetative state (PVS).

John Grace QC, representing two hospital trusts , said both families involved supported the application to withdraw life support. Both patients were "victims" of medical technology that did not exist when the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) was formulated in 1950.

Mr Grace said he would relyon a House of Lords decision overthe case of Hillsborough disaster survivor Tony Bland in 1993. The principles of that case were "an adequate protection" under the ECHR's right-to-life provisions.

The recent cases involved two women being treated in hospitals in northern England who can be identified only by their first initial.

Mrs M, who is 49, was left severely brain damaged by an anaesthetic accident during an overseas gynaecological operation.

Although she responds to some stimuli, doctors saidthese were reflex actions and and there was no possibility of recovery if kept alive by artificial means. It is estimated that if life support continues she should live for at least 12 years.

The second woman, referred to as Ms H, aged 36, had suffered from severe epilepsy for most of her life. Earlier this year she suffered a cardiac arrest and had been in a vegetative state since. Nutrition had been a constant problem and recently it had not been possible to administer to her, said Mr Grace.

The hearing continues.