A High Court judge has today ruled in favour of a “minimally conscious” woman whose family wanted to end her life.
Mr Justice Baker said the “preservation of life” was an important factor in his decision.
The court also heard from a QC that a decision in favour of the woman’s family would be “a slippery slope”.
Pro-lifers welcomed the ruling, with the Pro-Life Alliance warning that a decision the other way would have been a “failure by the state to protect society’s most vulnerable”.
The case centred on a mother who was seeking the Court of Protection’s permission to withdraw food and water from her brain-damaged daughter, who is known only as M.
The case is legally significant because M is not in a ‘persistent vegetative state’ (PVS), she is conscious – albeit “minimally”. M can respond to touch, move an arm and can put her tongue in and out.
If the judge had ruled in the family’s favour, it would be the first time a court has allowed food and water to be withdrawn from a non-PVS patient.
But the judge said: “The factor which does carry substantial weight, in my judgment, is the preservation of life.
“Although not an absolute rule, the law regards the preservation of life as a fundamental principle.”
He said that while M does “experience pain and discomfort”, she does have “some positive experiences and importantly that there is a reasonable prospect that those experiences can be extended by a planned programme of increased stimulation”.
M was represented by the Official Solicitor, Caroline Harry Thomas QC, whose job involves preventing “injustice to the vulnerable”.
Miss Harry Thomas QC argued it was not in the “best interests” of M to have “life-sustaining treatment, including artificial nutrition and hydration, withdrawn”.
She commented: “To do so would be to embark on a slippery slope”.
Miss Harry Thomas also said M’s life expectancy is ten years.
M will continue to be looked after in a nursing home and the judge urged everyone concerned with M to “work together to agree a revised care plan which gives her an opportunity of more positive experiences”.