Right to die case is rejected by High Court judge

 

A High Court judge's ruling that a brain-damaged, minimally conscious woman should not be allowed to die was hailed today as a landmark decision which clarified the law relating to the care of the severely disabled.

Mr Justice Baker concluded that life-supporting treatment should not be withdrawn from the 52-year-old former hairdresser and said there was dignity in the life of a disabled person who was "well cared for and kept comfortable".



The judge said an English court had never before been asked to consider whether life-supporting treatment should be withdrawn from a patient who was not in a persistent vegetative state but was minimally conscious.



His ruling came nearly two decades after leading judges ruled that Liverpool soccer fan Tony Bland - left in a permanent vegetative state after being crushed at the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster - could be allowed to die.



Mr Justice Baker said the woman, who cannot be identified but lives at a care home in the North of England, had "some positive experiences" which could be "extended".



"The factor which does carry substantial weight, in my judgment, is the preservation of life," said the judge, who had heard legal argument during a Court of Protection hearing in London in July.



"Anyone would wish the end of life to be as dignified as possible. In my judgment, however, there is dignity in the life of a disabled person who is being well cared for and being kept as comfortable and as free from pain as possible, and being provided with the maximum opportunity to extend their enjoyment of life that their disability allows."



Relatives wanted artificial nutrition and hydration withdrawn and said the woman, referred to as M in court, would not want to live "a life dependent on others".



But a lawyer appointed by the High Court to represent the woman opposed the relatives' application, arguing that she was "otherwise clinically stable".



The local health authority responsible for commissioning her care also opposed the relatives' application and said the woman's life was "not without positive elements".



Mr Justice Baker heard that M suffered profound brain damage in 2003 after being diagnosed with viral encephalitis.



She was in a coma for several weeks and had been thought to be in a persistent vegetative state. Doctors later concluded that she was in a minimally conscious state - a state just above a persistent vegetative state.



The court heard evidence from M's sister, B, and partner, S. B broke down as she described M's "awful existence".



Lawyers representing M's family said relatives were "deeply disappointed" and were considering an appeal.



But Yogi Amin, a partner with law firm Irwin Mitchell, which represented relatives, added that the ruling was a "landmark" and the law had been "clarified".



"They brought this application to court in what they perceive to be her best interests. There can be no question that the past eight years have been extremely heart-breaking for them all," he said.



"They love her dearly and want only what is best for her, and it has been desperately difficult for them to make this application to court for treatment to be withdrawn. They believe that M was clear that she would not have wanted to live in the condition that she is in.



"However, the judge has decided in this particular case, after considering all the evidence, that balancing the benefits and disbenefits to M does not fall on the side of withdrawing treatment.



"This is a very important judgment. The law has been clarified and, going forward, in all such cases of patients who are in a minimally conscious state, the High Court does now have the power to decide on whether it is in that patient's best interests for treatment to continue or whether the patient should be allowed to die naturally, with dignity."



He added: "The High Court judge has clarified the law and decided that it is for the court to carry out a balancing exercise and decide if withdrawal of treatment is in the patient's best interests. In this case he has ruled that overall M's current life was not overwhelmingly negative."



Campaign group the ProLife Alliance said the ruling was of "seminal importance".



"A ruling in favour of withdrawal would have created a new precedent for killing patients with a significantly higher level of consciousness than Tony Bland," said a spokeswoman.



"It was a frightening attempt to widen the goalposts, but justice and humanity have prevailed, and an extremely dangerous precedent has been avoided."

PA

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
News
peopleActress tells men: 'It's your issue too'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam