A family pleading for the right to keep a father in a persistent vegetative state alive were today told that what they believed were signs he recognised them were simply reflex movements.
Just five weeks ago the 55-year-old, who can only be identified as L, suffered a third cardiac arrest which left him severely brain damaged, “awake but unaware”, with his chances of recovery “exceptionally remote”.
His wife and sons are fighting a Court of Protection application by Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust to implement a do not resuscitate order, insisting that upon daily visits he had reacted by following them with his eyes and expressing emotion.
“We feel strongly that (L) is able to understand us, hear us and we believe he reacts,” his wife said in a statement, describing him previously as a "happy, loving person and a loving and caring father".
But today a consultant in intensive care, giving evidence, concurred with all the medics treating L, as well as the recorded electrical brain activity, that there were no signs he was aware. During a three-hour visit by the doctor, Mr L’s son had tried to prove his point in vain.
“One could explain it sympathetically and pragmatically on the basis they do want to believe that he is capable of recognising them and making some response,” said the doctor, adding that what they had seen were common reflex responses by a PVS patient.
In contrast he estimated that L had a five per cent chance of improving to a “minimally conscious” state but, if pushed to put a figure on it, only a 1 in 10,000 likelihood of making a meaningful recovery: “If there was clear evidence that L was capable of taking pleasure from his surroundings and from his family, of exercising some control over his environment and a general interpretation of his emotions was that he was happy with his condition then we would say he had made a meaningful recovery.
“(For L) I don’t see it at this point and I don’t foresee it.”
The family’s lawyers told the court that a "Do not resuscitate" (DNR) notice was placed in his notes without consulting them in contravention of the hospital trust's own policy.
L’s family insist that it is simply too soon to make the decision and, largely due to his strong Islamic faith, he would want to be resuscitated in the event of a life threatening event such as another cardiac arrest.
But the doctor said that, while taking the family’s views into consideration, a clinician had to judge what quality of life he would have if resuscitated, whether it would be characterised by “pleasure or discomfort and distress”.