Sunday 17 December 2017

Woman with 'end stage' multiple sclerosis dies after ruling to stop feeding

Stock picture
Stock picture

Brian Farmer

A woman in her late 60s who was ''locked into the end stage'' of multiple sclerosis has died about a month after a judge allowed medics to cease artificial feeding, lawyers say.

Mr Justice Hayden ruled that the woman should be allowed to die in mid-November, following hearings in the Court of Protection - where issues relating to sick and vulnerable people are considered - in London.

The woman's daughter had told how her mother was ''completely incapacitated'' and had asked Mr Justice Hayden to allow medics to stop providing ''clinically-assisted nutrition and hydration''.

A lawyer who represents the daughter said the woman had died earlier this week.

The judge had considered the views of the daughter, other relatives, medics involved in her treatment, carers, independent medical experts and lawyers he had appointed to represent the woman.

No one involved in the case had opposed the application made by the daughter.

Mr Justice Hayden had said during the hearing that he could not ''contemplate a more difficult decision''. He said his decision was an ''evolution in case law''.

Lawyers who represented the woman's daughter described the ruling as a landmark.

Mr Justice Hayden ruled that the woman, a former hairdresser who was being cared for at a specialist unit in north-west England, could not be identified.

A judge expected to consider, in the near future, whether that identification ban can be lifted now that the woman has died.

Experts had told the judge they thought that the woman was in a ''minimally conscious state''. They said she could ''fix her vision'' and ''follow a moving object''.

Mathieu Culverhouse, a specialist Court of Protection lawyer based at law firm Irwin Mitchell, which represents the woman's daughter, had described the judge's decision as the first of its kind.

''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','' Mr Culverhouse had said.

''However, all cases of this kind are decided on their own facts and judges will always examine all the evidence presented to them, including that presented by the patient's family affected, on an individual basis.''

He had said the litigation had been distressing for the daughter but said she had been relieved that a judge had analysed all available evidence before making a decision which ended "her mother's suffering and indignity".

The woman's daughter had told the court that continuing treatment would be against her mother's wishes.

''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.

''I cannot emphasise enough how much the indignity of her current existence is the greatest contradiction to how she thrived on life and, had she been able to express this, then without a doubt she would.''

Mr Justice Hayden had heard legal argument from lawyers representing the woman's daughter and lawyers representing two health organisations involved in her care.

The woman's interests had been represented by the Office of the Official Solicitor, which provides legal help to mentally ill people.

Lawyers instructed by the official solicitor initially said the judge should conclude that there was a ''strong presumption in favour of the benefits of continuing life'' but they altered their view after hearing evidence and said they had decided to support the application.

Mr Justice Hayden said he was satisfied the woman's views had found ''real and authoritative expression'' through her family at the hearing.

Four years ago, another judge ruled that a brain-damaged, minimally conscious 52-year-old woman should not be allowed to die.

Mr Justice Baker's ruling was hailed as a landmark decision which clarified the law relating to the care of the severely disabled. He had said there was dignity in the life of a disabled person who was ''well cared for and kept comfortable'', and concluded that life-supporting treatment should not be withdrawn.

He concluded the 52-year-old had ''some positive experiences'' which could be ''extended'' and ruled that the woman, who lived in a care home in the north of England, could not be identified.

He had said an English court had never before been asked to consider whether life-supporting treatment should be withdrawn from a patient who was not in a persistent vegetative state but was minimally conscious.

His decision came nearly two decades after leading judges ruled that Liverpool football fan Tony Bland, left in a permanent vegetative state after being crushed in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster, could be allowed to die.

Press Association

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