A totally incapacitated 68-year-old woman in the final stages of multiple sclerosis should be allowed to die, a judge has ruled. The daughter of the woman, who cannot be identified, had applied to the courts to make the decision to allow medics to stop providing food and water.
Mr Justice Hayden, at the courts of protection, said the woman, who is unable to communicate, would "regard as grotesque", attempts to keep her alive. He considered the views not only of the daughter, but also other relatives, carers, medics and legal experts before making his decision. No-one opposed the application.
The daughter of the former hairdresser, who is at a care home in north-west England, said her mother would not wish treatment to continue to keep her 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."
The interests of the woman, who cannot move or communicate, were represented by the Office of the Official Solicitor. Having listened to all the evidence lawyers said they supported the application.
Justice Hayden noted that the decision was an evolution in case law, but had been one of the most difficult he could imagine. In making the landmark ruling he had taken into account "the broadest survey of a wide canvas of opinion. It is not on the evidence of any one individual."
Treatment will now be withdrawn in line with clinical guidelines. Irwin Mitchell lawyer Mathieu Culverhouse 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, Campaign Director of Care Not Killing told IBTimes: "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.
"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."