Thursday 19 September 2019

Family of brain-dead pregnant woman kept on life support for 24 days to sue HSE over 'shock'

The teen was given an eight month custodial sentence. (stock photo)
The teen was given an eight month custodial sentence. (stock photo)
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Relatives of a pregnant woman who was kept on life support despite being clinically brain-dead say they were left suffering from "nervous shock".

The claim is made in a number of lawsuits against the HSE set to go before the courts in the coming months.

In a hugely controversial case in 2014, doctors decided to keep the 26-year-old woman on life support as her foetus still had a heartbeat.

They feared that ending life support could have been in breach of the Eighth Amendment, since repealed, which gave equal status to the rights of mothers and the unborn.

The decision was successfully challenged by the woman's father, who appealed at the time to be allowed to lay her to rest with dignity.

A three-judge High Court found the woman, known as Ms P, could be taken off life support because there was no genuine prospect of her baby being born alive.

She was 18 weeks pregnant and had been kept alive artificially for 24 days by the time she was allowed to die.

At an inquest the following year, Ms P's father also raised concerns over her treatment when she initially presented at the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar.

Civil actions being taken by the woman's father, brother and daughter against the HSE are due to be heard by the High Court this November and in January next year.

The Irish Independent has learned relatives are claiming damages as a result of "nervous shock" they say they suffered. Nervous shock is a psychiatric injury, beyond emotional grief or distress, suffered as a result of negligence or breach of duty.

During the legal challenge which led to life support being ended, Ms P's father spoke of the distress suffered by the eldest of her two young children when she saw her mother in hospital.

Damages will also be sought for the loss of financial support suffered by Ms P's dependants as a result of her death.

Ian Carter, the chief executive of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, was originally a co-defendant in the actions, but cases against him were discontinued last month.

An inquest heard Ms P began complaining of headaches in September 2014. Her father said she attended her doctor on three different dates from that October onwards and was referred to the hospital in Mullingar on each occasion.

He said the hospital did not examine her for her severe headaches, dizziness and vision impairment, and that she was upset about this.

She went to the hospital on November 29 and a consultant testified that initially there was no concern that Ms P was suffering from anything more than severe morning sickness.

However, she became unconscious, and a scan revealed she had a large cyst on her brain.

Ms P was moved to Beaumont Hospital, but could not be saved.

However, she was kept on life support while clarification was sought on the law in relation to the foetus.

A coroner told the inquest jury that if it felt more could have been done to save Ms P, it should return a verdict of death by medical misadventure, but if it was undecided, it should return an open verdict. It returned an open verdict.

Irish Independent

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