In landmark decision, British justice authorizes starving and dehydrating patient in a “minimally conscious state”

By Dave Andrusko

Justice Hayden

Justice Hayden

Four years ago, we held our breath as Justice Baker of the British Court of Protection considered whether to extend the logic of starving and dehydrating patients in a so-called “persistent vegetative state” to someone diagnosed as being in a “minimally conscious state.”

Thankfully, he said no.

Just two months ago, a private member’s bill to legalize assisted suicide was defeated in the British House of Commons by a crushing 3 to 1 margin. Another important victory.

Sadly, yesterday, Justice Hayden, in another case heard in the Court of Protection involving a patient supposedly in a “minimally conscious state,” ruled that doctors could remove the tube through which a 68-year-old woman with multiple sclerosis receives her food and fluids.

Justice Hayden said that he could not “contemplate a more difficult decision,” and that his decision was an “evolution in case law.” He added, “This decision is mine” and “made on the broadest survey of a wide canvas of opinion. It is not on the evidence of any one individual.”

No one–not the daughter, not care givers, not medical experts, not the Office of the Official Solicitor which was supposed to be looking out for her–opposed the decision to end “clinically assisted nutrition and hydration” to a woman identified only as “Mrs. N.”

According to the Daily Mail, the daughter said

“My mum’s immaculate appearance, the importance she placed on maintaining her dignity and how she lived her life to its fullest is what formed her belief system; it’s what she lived for. …

“All of that is gone now and very sadly my mum has suffered profound humiliation and indignity for so many years.”

Mathieu Culverhouse, a specialist Court of Protection lawyer based at the law firm Irwin Mitchell, which represented the woman’s daughter, told The Daily Mail’s Joseph Curtis that the “landmark” decision

“is the first time that the Court of Protection has agreed to withdraw treatment from someone receiving life sustaining treatment while considered by medical experts to be in a ‘minimally conscious state.’”

While there may have no one in court opposed, others warned how dangerous a precedent had been set. Dr. Peter Saunders, Campaign Director of Care Not Killing, told Mark Piggott of the International Business Times.

“The full details of this tragic case are not known but this ruling nonetheless exposes weaknesses inherent in the wording of the Mental Capacity Act whereby judges, on the questionable grounds of a patient’s ‘best interests’, can authorize withdrawal of food and fluids from brain-damaged people who are not terminally ill with the explicit intention of ending their lives.

“By exploiting this loophole to new levels this judgment has created a dangerous precedent which could put the lives of many other vulnerable sick and disabled people at risk.

“People who are severely brain-damaged, but not imminently dying, should be given nutrition, hydration, pain relief and treated with the utmost kindness, love and respect until the day that they die peacefully and naturally. We should not be deliberately dehydrating them to death.

“However, this case demonstrates judicial mission creep whereby judges, through subjective application of vague and ambiguous legal precedent, are able to shape and remake the law. In so doing they erode legal protection for vulnerable people and give an invitation to those who wish to rid themselves of a financial or emotional care burden to push the envelope even further.”

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