The Solicitor - The FindLaw UK Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

Human rights: Brain-damaged woman's family fight to allow her to die

The family of a woman who suffers from severe brain damage are fighting a court battle to allow them to withdraw the tubes which artificially feed and hydrate her, and end her life.

The woman, known as M to protect her identity, contracted a viral infection in 2003 which left her brain damaged in a "minimally conscious state" and entirely dependent on others.

M's family have applied to the Court of Protection to euthanize her, claiming that before she was brain damaged she clearly stated that she would never want to live a life that was dependent on others.

They also believe that she currently "experiences bodily pain and physical discomfort on a regular basis".

During the hearing, M's sister broke down as she told the court: "I know in my heart she would not want to live like that.

"What can she possibly get out of life? She can't move, speak and she's fed through a tube. She can't even enjoy a cup of tea.

"She has no pleasure in life. There's no dignity in it. It's not a life, it's an existence and I know she would not want that."

The Official Solicitor, opposing the application, states that M is receiving "exceptional and dedicated" treatment at a care home, where the staff believe that she is able to communicate.

Expert evidence from a medical report carried out for the Official Solicitor will claim that M is able to respond to touch.

Caroline Harry Thomas QC, representing the Official Solicitor, said: "There is clear evidence of possible communication using a switch, which was quite stark and very surprising."

Since M is not completely unaware of her surroundings, she cannot be said to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). In 1993, the House of Lords ruled that people in PVS need not be kept alive if it was of no benefit to them.

But since M is not in PVS, the court will have to decide whether she is able to communicate in a meaningful way.

The case continues.

Related links:
Read more on the story (BBC)
Read about assisted suicide (FindLaw)
Find local specialist solicitors throughout the UK (FindLaw)