September 28, 2011

Court of Protection rejects right-to-die case

by Jan Harris

The Court of Protection has ruled that life-support treatment cannot be withdrawn from a woman in a ‘minimally-conscious’.

The 52 year-old woman suffered profound brain damage in early 2003 after contracting viral encephalitis.

Her family pleaded for nutrition to be withdrawn because of their conviction that their relative would not want to live a life dependent on others.

Mr Justice Baker, who heard the case, said it raised “very important issues of principle”.

It is believed to be the first ‘right-to-die’ case concerning a person in a minimally-conscious state, although such cases have been heard over people in persistent vegetative states.

A minimally-conscious state is just above a persistent vegetative state.

A ‘minimally-conscious’ person may show occasional signs of consciousness, such as opening their eyes and tracking a person around the room.

They may be unable to communicate at all or may be able to give inconsistent yes/no responses, verbalisation and gestures.

The relatives’ request for the woman to be allowed to die was opposed by the local health authority, who said her life was “not without positive elements”.

The lawyer appointed to represent the woman argued that she was “otherwise clinically stable”.

In a separate case, Michelle Clements has called for assisted suicide to be allowed in the UK, after her husband, Tony Clements, ended his life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland in August.

Mr Clements’ health deteriorated substantially over the last six months’ of his life, due to Parkinson’s disease.

Assisted suicide is illegal in the UK and carries a custodial sentence of up to 14 years.

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