Friday 24 November 2017

Fate of pregnant clinically dead woman on life machine to be heard tomorrow

High Court President Nicholas Kearns
High Court President Nicholas Kearns

By Ray Managh

Three judges will sit tomorrow to determine the fate of a young pregnant woman who has been deemed clinically dead but remains on life support to keep her baby alive.

A young Senior Counsel, Conor Dignam, will be given the most important legal assignment of his career - representing the baby whose heart continues to beat in the brain-dead body of its mother in a country hospital.

High Court President, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, was told that Mr Dignam, with barrister Siobhan Phelan and solicitor Patricia Drumgoole, had been appointed by the Health Service Executive to represent the interests of the unborn in tomorrow’s life-or-death High Court struggle regarding the future of the baby and its mother.

Judge Kearns said he would sit tomorrow with Ms Justice Marie Baker and Ms Justice Caroline Costello as a Divisional Court of the High Court to determine the issues concerning the mother, currently on a life support machine, and her baby of 17 weeks gestation.

Gerard Durcan, senior counsel for the HSE, told Judge Kearns in a brief hearing to outline issues and management of tomorrows hearing, that the Executive had appointed Mr Dignam to lead a legal team on behalf of the unborn.

The Executive was also in the process of appointing a legal team to represent the interests of the mother, a woman in her 20s who suffered a brain trauma a number of weeks ago and who is considered by neurosurgeons to be brain dead.

She was treated in a Dublin hospital before being moved to a hospital in the country where she remains on a life support machine.

Neurosurgeons recommended her life support be switched off after determining she was clinically dead but lawyers for the HSE stepped in after another medical specialist treating the woman expressed concern about legal issues arising in the case.

The woman’s father, represented by John Rogers, SC, and barrister Catherine Forde, BL, is expected to ask the Divisional Court that his daughter be made a ward of court which would allow him, with approval of the court, to administer her affairs.

The father, and the woman’s family members, is understood to be in favour of her life support being switched off and the court will be told tomorrow if they wish to have a declaratory order made in those terms.

The case raises issues relating to the right to life of the unborn and, in particular, whether ending life support for the mother would breach the constitutional rights of the unborn child which, currently, is below the threshold for viability outside the womb.

Mr Durcan told Judge Kearns that very considerable effort had been put into the case by the HSE over the weekend.

A lot of preparatory legal and medical work had been carried out by the HSE and the Executive hoped to be in a position to assist the court with regard to all medical issues that would arise.

The HSE could be bringing to court a consultant obstetrician and to have a report from a consultant in intensive care medicine which was relevant to tomorrow’s hearing as well as a report from a consultant neurologist.  He said there would be reports from treating doctors responsible for the mother’s care and evidence where necessary relating to any particular areas that needed to be explored.

Judge Kearns said the court, as well as hearing the arguments relative to the interests of the unborn, would wish to hear evidence and discussion on the effects on the mother.

Judge Kearns said time was of the essence and the court would wish “all four corners” of available evidence and views taken into consideration.

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