A paralysed father-of-two was about to have his life support machine turned off when he signalled to doctors that he wanted to live by using eye movements.
The family of motorcycle enthusiast, Richard Rudd, decided to switch off the machine based on comments he had made in the past.
Speculating on what he would do if he were ever paralysed by a motorcycling accident, Mr Rudd had previously said he wouldn’t want to live.
But doctors realised Mr Rudd had changed his mind when they discovered he was able to move his eyes in response to questions.
The scene, which was captured on camera for a BBC documentary, Between Life and Death, has reignited the debate over living wills.
Mr Rudd’s father, also called Richard, admitted the family had been convinced there was “no way in a million years” that he would want to live with his injuries.
He said: “When we are healthy and in good condition, it’s easy to say you would want to be switched off but when it actually happens it’s completely different”.
“Making a living will could be detrimental to your own health. Imagine if you changed your mind but couldn’t communicate it.
“There must have been a time when Richard could hear what was going on but wasn’t able to do anything about it.
“For my part, I’m glad he’s alive and didn’t make a living will. If he had, then we would never have known whether it was worth continuing with the treatment.
“I’m glad he’s been given the chance to survive and to have a say. Him being able to communicate a little bit the way he can has taken pressure off the family.
“Having to make the decision of whether your child should live or die is almost impossible.
“It might not be the same Richard that we started out with but at least he’s still coping because he smiles when we talk about the past or when he sees his children”, said Mr Rudd’s father.
Now nine months on 43-year-old Mr Rudd can move his head slowly an inch from side to side and smile and grimace at his family.
Mr Rudd was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and left completely paralysed.
But when intensive care specialist Professor David Menon discovered his patient was able to make eye movements he spent three weeks communicating with Mr Rudd to ensure he understood his condition.
Prof Menon asked the patient three times if he wanted to continue his treatment and three times Mr Rudd responded with yes eye movements.
Prof Menon said he was willing to be guided by information given by his family if it was all they had but “after a period of waiting, he showed voluntary movement of his eyes, everything changed”.
“We could use these eye movements to document ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses, and allow Richard to have a say in his own care.
“This was crucial, because we know there may sometimes be differences between what a patient declares when he is fit and healthy, and what he feels when he is the one in the hospital bed.”
The BBC documentary, which aired on Tuesday night, followed the progress of three patients at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, a leading care centre for people suffering from serious brain injuries.
You just don’t know what will happen
In his book Against Physician Assisted Suicide, Dr David Jeffrey tells the story of a former army instructor who was being treated for terminal cancer and was determined to commit suicide.
After a discussion with the doctor, it emerged that he was missing the Army, and was subsequently taken to watch a passing-out parade of young recruits, where a party had been arranged in his honour.
“His life was transformed,” Dr Jeffrey said. “He had a purpose and his demeanour completely changed. He died two weeks later, comfortably. People’s lives always have that potential. Even in the midst of suffering there can be change.
“You just don’t know what will happen.”
A different life
The Times reported the story of Matt Hampson, a former rugby player who was paralysed from the neck down during training and now requires a ventilator to breathe.
With the help of carers and a custom-built house, he has been able to set up a website, is writing an autobiography and is the patron of a charity for disabled children called Special Effects.
He says: “I don’t live a bad life, I live a different life. I use my brain more than my brawn now. It has helped me become a more rounded person. I think about things more.
“I’ve had to grow up quite a bit and do things that most 23-year-olds don’t do.”
I’m grateful I wasn’t allowed to end it all!
Alison Davis is National Co-ordinator of No Less Human. She was born with severe spina bifida, and is dependent on a wheelchair. She is often in extreme pain for hours at a time. She says that for many years she wanted to “end it all”.
“If euthanasia had been legal, I would certainly have requested it and I wouldn’t be here now,” she says.
But after several serious suicide attempts, blocked by the intervention of Alison’s friends, she began to change her mind.
Alison met the disabled children she had been sponsoring through a charity. The experience led her to think, for the first time in over ten years, “I think I want to live”.
She says: “I’ll always be grateful to the friends who saved my life (though I wasn’t at the time). And I’m especially thankful there was no possibility of persuading my doctors to legally help me die.”
She believes that disabled people “deserve the same kind of help routinely given to those who do not have a physical condition but who feel suicidal”.