In what some are calling a landmark case, a British judge has refused to approve a request by the family of woman who is in a “minimally conscious state” to withdraw basic care.
The family of the 52-year-old woman, identified only as “M,” alleged that she was experiencing undue suffering and requested that food and water be withdrawn. However, Britain’s Official Solicitor and the health care workers responsible for her care opposed the request.
According to the BBC, Judge Baker, who heard legal arguments during a hearing in July, said the case was unique and raised "very important issues of principle." M had "some positive experiences," he said, and there was a "reasonable prospect" that those experiences could be extended.
Judge Baker said: "The factor which does carry substantial weight, in my judgment, is the preservation of life. Although not an absolute rule, the law regards the preservation of life as a fundamental principle."
Yogi Amin, a partner with the law firm representing “M” said, "This is a very important judgment. The law has been clarified and, going forward, in all such cases of patients who are in a minimally conscious state, the High Court does now have the power to decide whether it is in that patient's best interests for treatment to continue, or whether the patient should be allowed to die naturally, with dignity."
"All parties agree that M's family has demonstrated their love and devotion for her throughout this case, and that they brought this application to court in what they perceive to be her best interests," he added.
"They love her dearly and want only what is best for her, and it has been desperately difficult for them to make this application to court for treatment to be withdrawn.”
"They believe that M was clear that she would not have wanted to live in the condition that she is in," Amin said, according to the Press Association.
M became severely brain damaged eight-and-a-half years ago. She is unable to talk and was thought to be in a vegetative state, although tests have shown that she is in a minimally conscious state.
She is now receiving care in a home north of England.
Relatives wanted treatment to be withdrawn, saying she would not want to live "a life dependent on others."
But a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the woman opposed their application for nutrition to be withdrawn, saying she is "otherwise clinically stable" and that the 52-year-old's life was "not without positive elements."
In 1993 the House of Lords ruled that doctors need not keep someone alive if it was viewed that it was of no benefit to the patient. That case was crucial in determining that feeding tubes could be regarded as medical treatment.
Since 1993, a total of 43 patients in a persistent vegetative state have died after a judge ordered that treatment could be withdrawn.