Campaigners have welcomed a high court judge’s ruling that a “minimally conscious” disabled woman should not have her life-supporting treatment withdrawn.
The family of the woman, who has brain damage and is known as “M” for legal reasons, had told the court that she would not have wanted to be kept alive in such circumstances.
But Mr Justice Baker has ruled that these statements were not legally binding, and that M currently has “some positive experiences”, while there was a “reasonable prospect” that those experiences could be extended.
Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, of the campaigning disabled people’s organisation Not Dead Yet UK, expressed sympathy with the family but said the judge’s ruling was “an example of where the right processes are working”.
He said: “We understand that the family are going through a very difficult period, but we have had the appropriate checks and balances.
“The difficulty we are left with is that we have to come to a place where a judgement is made on the quality of life for an individual not able to advocate for themselves. In this case, it resulted in a judgement that said this woman had a quality of life.
“This is a matter where the right process was followed. It is an exemplar for us of how things should work. The protections that are required are in place and this case shows that.”
M was left with brain damage after falling ill with viral encephalitis in 2003. She receives food and water through a tube, which the family want to be removed in order to hasten her death.
Doctors initially believed M was in a coma, until later realising she was capable of some response, was aware of her environment, and was in what is known as a “minimally conscious” state. She now lives in a care home.
Yogi Amin, from law firm Irwin Mitchell, which represented M’s family, said they had “demonstrated their love and devotion for her throughout this case” and “brought this application to court in what they perceive to be her best interests”.
He said M’s relatives believed that she had been clear before her illness that she would not have wanted to live in the condition that she is in now.
Amin said evidence was provided to the court that M was unable to communicate consistently, or move or care for herself, and that she regularly experienced pain, distress and discomfort, while there was no evidence that her condition has improved.
He added: “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.”
He said the law had now been “clarified” and the high court would have the power in other cases to decide if it was in a person’s best interests for such treatment to continue.
29 September 2011