A mother’s application to end the life of her incapacitated daughter is being heard by the Court of Protection, in a case which could shift the law on euthanasia.
It is significant because the daughter has a degree of consciousness – which means she can respond to touch, move an arm and can put her tongue in and out.
The case centres on a mother who is seeking permission to withdraw food and water from her brain-damaged daughter.
So far the courts have only allowed nutrition to be withdrawn from patients in a persistent vegetative state (PVS).
If the family’s legal action is successful it would be the first time a court has allowed food and water to be withdrawn from a non-PVS patient. The case, which started yesterday, will last for ten days.
The patient’s family say that she is often in pain and would be better off dead. But their case is being opposed by the official solicitor and the NHS trust caring for her.
Allowing the woman to die could have drastic implications for the 6,000 Britons who are in a similar condition.
At a preliminary hearing earlier this year Mr Justice Baker ruled that the identity of the patient and her family remain secret.
Nikki Kenward, who has previously fought back from near total paralysis, has warned that allowing the withdrawal of food and water would set a dangerous precedent for patients.
Speaking to The Sunday Times she said: “You have to ask the question: are we going to kill someone who is aware of it?
“Would you still say, ‘We are going to kill you?’, because that is what it is going to come to. It will open those doors.”
The news follows the heart-wrenching story of Martin Pistorius who was left paralysed and comatose following a throat infection at the age of 12.
His awareness began to improve four years later and by the age of 19 it had fully returned. But it took five more years before a therapist noticed that he was trying to communicate.
Last month it emerged that dementia sufferers in Holland are being killed by doctors under the country’s controversial euthanasia laws.
Last year 21 patients in the early stages of the condition were killed by lethal injection.