Jeremy Laurance: The decision to end a life is never easy

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The Independent Online

Predicting the outcome for a patient in a coma is one of the hardest judgments in medicine. Some recover, some die and some remain halfway between, in a persistent vegetative state.

Deciding when to withdraw artificial feeding and other life sustaining treatment is difficult for families and doctors, as Colin Hendry will know.

Patients like Denise Hendry who have a non-traumatic coma – failing to wake after surgery or suffering a stroke – have the worst prognosis; only 15 per cent survive one month. Traumatic coma – after a road crash or similar incident – has the best prognosis but the survival rate is still 50 per cent or less.

Generally, anyone who has been in a coma for more than two weeks has a diminishing chance of recovery. But there are exceptions.

Families can have unrealistic expectations for recovery and disagreements about treatment can, at worst, can end up in the courts.