'Living death' women allowed to die

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The Independent Online

Doctors can switch off life support for two brain damaged women after the High Court heard they are suffering a "living death".

Doctors can switch off life support for two brain damaged women after the High Court heard they are suffering a "living death".

The test case decided the women - identified only as Ms H, 36, and Mrs M, 49 - lacked the capacity to make decisions as to their future medical treatment.

It had been brought by the families and doctors of the women, who are so badly brain damaged they are completely unaware of the outside world.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss agreed to make the declarations after hearing evidence and submissions over two days from representatives of both the National Health Service Trusts involved and the patients who were diagnosed as being in a Permanent Vegetative State.

She said it was not in their best interests to continue artificial nutrition and hydration.

The judge said all those treating the women could lawfully discontinue all life-sustaining treatment designed to keep them alive and supply treatment and care which may be appropriate to ensure they die with dignity.

The case went before the head of the High Court's family division to test the effect of the new Human Rights Act on the right of judges to give doctors the power to end treatment in such cases.

Mrs M was left severely brain damaged by an anaesthetic accident during a gynaecological operation abroad in 1997.

She responds to some stimuli, but doctors say they are reflex actions.

Doctors believe she could live another 12 years.

Ms H, who had suffered severe epilepsy most of her life, suffered pancreatitis as a result of her medication while on holiday in the US at Christmas.

After being brought back to Britain, she suffered a cardiac arrest and has been in a vegetative state since.

Experts say without artificial help she will a pain-free death within a fortnight.