Precedent-Setting Case Would Open the Door to Starvation Deaths for Patients in a “Minimally Conscious State”

By Dave Andrusko

Disability rights campaigners dressed in white will stage a mock execution of a wheelchair user outside Parliament on Wednesday in protest against the dangerous drift toward all-out euthanasia.

It’s not often that it occurs, fortunately, but there legal cases where precedents of unbelievable danger can be established. Such is the case with a 51-year-old woman identified (for legal reasons) only as “M.”

England has already established the precedent that is acceptable to starve and dehydrate patients to death if they are diagnosed to be in a “persistent vegetative state” (PVS). The issue raised in the case of M, who is being cared for somewhere in the north of England, is whether someone diagnosed as being in a “minimally conscious state,” a less severe condition, can also have their food and fluids removed.

The request of  her sister and her sister’s partner to have M’s “artificial nutrition and hydration” withdrawn is being heard in what is called the Court of Protection by Judge Baker.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.

It’s hard to know what this means out of context, but Justice Baker is reported to have remarked that the case is “unique” and raises “very important issues of principle.”   Justice Baker saw M on Monday.

M’s medical diagnosis was bungled in 2003 after coming down with viral encephalitis. In a coma for several weeks, she was thought to be in a PVS, but later discovered to be in a minimally conscious state.

Tomorrow “Disability rights campaigners dressed in white will stage a mock execution of a wheelchair user outside Parliament in protest against the dangerous drift toward all-out euthanasia,” according to the Independent Catholic News.” The demonstration will be led by “Nikki Kenward of the campaign group Distant Voices, a woman who knows what it is like to be ‘locked in’ after contracting Guillian Barre Syndrome, a condition which left her totally paralysed but for the ability to wink an eye.”

Referring to “M,” Mrs. Kenward observed, ‘Everybody is going to get old, everybody is going to be disabled. If we don’t want to value difference what differences will be acceptable in the end? Very few.”

Peter Saunders of the Christian Medical Association has a wonderful blog on the case. You can read it here.

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