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Judge rules to remove nutrition from 68-year-old woman with MS

20 November 2015

Anti-euthanasia protesters rally outside Parliament on the day that the Marris Bill was rejected by MPs

A judge has ruled that medics should stop providing food and water to a 68-year-old woman in the final stages of multiple sclerosis.

The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, is totally incapacitated and unable to communicate, relying on medics to provide her with basic nutrition.

The case was brought to the Court of Protection by her daughter, who said she believed her mother would not wish to be kept alive.

"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," she said. "All of that is gone now and very sadly my mum has suffered profound humiliation and indignity for so many years."

"Landmark decision"

Mr Justice Hayden granted the application, saying his decision was "an evolution in case law" but that the woman would "regard as grotesque" efforts to provide life-continuing nutrition. Lawyers assigned to represent the interests of the woman also supported the application, which was unopposed in court.

Mathieu Culverhouse, a lawyer from Irwin Mitchell representing the daughter, said she was relieved by the ruling. "This 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'," said Culverhouse.

However, Dr Peter Saunders of Care Not Killing told the International Business Times that: "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 authorise withdrawal of food and fluids from brain-damaged people who are not terminally ill with the explicit intention of ending their lives.

"Dangerous precedent"

"By exploiting this loophole to new levels this judgement 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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Comments (2)
  • Sue M Jamieson

    21 November 2015, 4:34pm

    I am in my 60s. I have been disabled all my life and for most of those years I have been wheelchair bound. I have led a full and active life despite my disability. I have surprised a few people and disappointed a few. Now to cut a long story short I need to have much more help with my daily living and some of my helpers are not very professional. Also I hear of others not treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Often it's the professionals themselves who put off the not so nice jobs for a day or 2, when that job should have been done when it needed to be done. I feel very sad for this lady whom we know nothing about who is the victim of a court order to stop feeding, and very cross with her daughter for saying she was relieved at the court's decision.

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  • French Olivier

    24 November 2015, 8:52am

    So she has been condemned to die of thirst, hasn't she? How painful! How unhuman!

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