A HIGH COURT judge has made a significant ruling in favour of “the preservation of life” by refusing a mother’s plea to end the life of of her brain-damaged daughter.
The woman, known as “M”, was in a minimally conscious state following a brain injury in 2003. Her mother and sister argued that she would not want to be kept alive in such circumstances and appealed to the High Court for the withdrawal of M’s artificial nutrition and hydration.
But Mr Justice Baker rejected their request, saying: “The factor which does carry substantial weight, in my judgment, is the preservation of life.Although not an absolute rule, the law regards the preservation of life as a fundamental principle.” The judge acknowledged that M had made clear before the injury that she would not want to be kept alive in such circumstances. But he said that M’s comments were not legally binding and it was not in M’s best interests to withdraw her food and water.
Caroline Harry Thomas QC, the Official Solicitor appointed by the court to represent M, told the judge that M showed a “range of behaviours and responses to external stimuli” and an “awareness of herself and her environment”, according to expert opinion.
She said: “In M’s case, a person is in a minimally conscious state and is otherwise clinically stable. It cannot, as a matter of law, be in that person’s best interests to withhold or withdraw lifesustaining treatment, including artificial nutrition and hydration.” She said that if such treatment were to be withdrawn from M it would amount to the “actus reus [guilty act] of murder”.
M was not receiving any other lifesustaining treatment apart from food and water through a feeding tube.
Jamie Bogle, barrister and chairman of the Catholic Union, welcomed the judgment as “commendable”. He said that if the application had succeeded “it would have been a major inroad into the law protecting human life in this country”.
A spokesman for the bishops’ conference described it as “an important and welcome judgment”. He said: “The ruling is important in upholding the full human rights and dignity of people who are minimally conscious.” The ProLife Alliance said the decision was “groundbreaking”.
Aspokeswoman said: “The sad precedent of Tony Bland established in 1993 that PVS [persistent vegetative state] patients can have artificial feeding and hydration withdrawn, and since then some 42 disabled patients have suffered a similar inhumane end to their lives.
“This current case was of seminal importance because 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. It was a frightening attempt to widen the goalposts, but justice and humanity have prevailed.” ButAnthony Ozimic, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the ruling posed “future threats to disabled people”. He said: “Although Ms M has been spared... the judgment has extended the scope for the courts to dictate that other patients in a similar condition can be killed.”
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