Preserve Life – British Judge Rules!

A British judge ruled against the withdrawal of food and water from a brain-damaged woman.

The case brought by the family of the 52 year old woman identified as ‘M’ sought a declaration that M lacks capacity to make decisions as to future medical treatment.

The family further applied for a declaration that the doctors may lawfully discontinue and withhold all life-sustaining treatment including artificial nutrition and hydration.

In 2003, M, then aged forty-three, was found in a drowsy and confused condition and soon fell into a coma. It was discovered that she had suffered viral encephalitis which left her with extensive and irreparable brain damage. She was thence wholly dependent on others for her care and fed artificially via a gastrostomy tube. When M emerged from the coma, the doctors diagnosed that she was in a vegetative state.

The Court appointed lawyer together with the local health authority opposed the application. Experts gave evidence that there was a possibility that she was in fact at a higher level of function. Their assessment was that M was still demonstrating behaviour suggestive of minimally conscious state.

Justice Baker in his judgment noted that M does have some positive experiences and there is a reasonable prospect that those experiences can be extended by a planned programme of increased stimulation. “The factor which does carry substantial weight, in my judgment, is the preservation of life,” he said.

He held that, “Although not an absolute rule, the law regards the preservation of life as a fundamental principle.”

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