A judge has ordered doctors to remove life-sustaining support from a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient, despite the fact that she is still partially conscious.
In a landmark ruling, Mr Justice Hayden said that a 68-year-old woman known only as Mrs N should have tubes which she relies on for nourishment and hydration removed, after describing her life as “profoundly humiliating”.
The decision led to fears about its implications, with one MP describing it as “bringing in euthanasia by the back door”.
Mrs N is awake and can respond to some stimuli although it is believed she has little awareness of the “outside world”.
The ruling marks the first time that “clinically assisted nutrition and hydration” has been withdrawn from a patient who is in a partially conscious state.
Previously in England and Wales, doctors have only sanctioned the removal of such support for those in a vegetative state – where it is thought they cannot feel pain and are not aware of themselves or others.
I would be horrified and extremely concerned to find that the Court of Protection… was ignoring the will of Parliament by bringing in euthanasia by the back door.Robert Flello MP
The case was heard in the Court of Protection, which makes decisions on behalf of those who lack the mental capacity to make their own choices.
Labour MP Robert Flello expressed concern that the court would ignore the will of Parliament, following the House of Commons’ decisive vote against assisted suicide on 11 September:
“I would be horrified and extremely concerned to find that the Court of protection, any other court, or any other public body, was ignoring the will of Parliament by bringing in euthanasia by the back door.”
Peter Saunders, Director of Care Not Killing, warned that the case demonstrates “judicial mission creep” and could “erode legal protection for vulnerable people and give an invitation to those who wish to rid themselves of a financial or emotional care burden”.
Mr Justice Hayden heard from medical experts and the patient’s family, including Mrs N’s daughter who said her mother had suffered “profound humiliation and indignity for so many years”.
In his conclusion, the judge said he was “required to evaluate the inviolability of life as an ethical concept and to weigh that against an individual’s right to self-determination or personal autonomy”.
He added that, in his belief, Mrs N would have found her circumstances “profoundly humiliating” and would have wanted to avoid causing her family “distress”.
He said “those who would not wish to live in this way must have their views respected too”.
In September, MPs voted 330 to 118 against Labour MP Rob Marris’ assisted suicide Bill.
MPs from across the political spectrum warned that legalising assisted suicide would endanger the most vulnerable in society.