British Judge Authorizes Withdrawal of Food and Fluids

By Dave Andrusko

Even as England’s Court of Protection is hearing a potentially precedent setting case in “M,” that same court yesterday authorized the withdrawal of food, fluids, and heart medication from a woman said to be in persistent vegetative state (PVS).

The issue in “M” is whether someone diagnosed as being in a “minimally conscious state,” a less severe condition than a PVS, can have their food and fluids removed. Her sister and her sister’s partner’s request that M’s “artificial nutrition and hydration” be withdrawn is being heard by Judge Baker.

The Official Solicitor, a lawyer appointed to represent M, strongly opposes the request. He says that M is “otherwise clinically stable” “has signs of awareness,” and “may be able to communicate using a switch,” according to the Belfast Telegraph. (See here.)

According to the Press Association, “Mr Justice Charles, sitting at the Court of Protection in London, ruled that stopping artificial nutrition and hydration would be in the best interests of the 54-year-old mother of four.”

There is very little that I could find about the case, other than the one news story, but what there is is not reassuring. For example, the application (“to render lawful” the withdrawal of hydration, nutrition and medication for a heart condition) comes from a National Health Service trust. The NHS is run by the government.

We learn that the trust is “responsible for her care,” which leads to the not unfair question what is driving the trust’s application, of which (according to the story) members of her family were “entirely supportive”?

Judging from the story, the woman had said or written nothing that would indicate what her wishes might be. Justice Charles found “convincing evidence from those who are nearest and dearest to her that there is nothing in her approach to life which would indicate that, if she were able to say something about it, she would not completely support what the family are asking me to do,” according to the newspaper account.

He concluded: “In my judgement this patient has permanent extensive brain damage and is in a permanent vegetative state. Further treatment would be futile.”

The consequence of withdrawal?  “The consequence of that is that very sadly the patient will die.”

Anthony Ozimic, speaking on behalf of Patients First Network,  said

“Although the court-cases are separate, the M case is being heard against the backdrop of such recent high court rulings which effectively sentenced disabled people to death. The provision of water, food and reasonable medical treatment to patients who are not dying is a human right underpinning the fundamental right to life, yet the English high court has discriminated against disabled people by denying them that right. Whether and to what extent a person has brain-damage is irrelevant to their membership of the human family.”

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