Health

Mother seeks to let brain-damaged daughter die

Artificial nutrition
Image caption 'M' is currently being fed artificially

A mother is seeking a court's permission to withdraw life-sustaining artificial nutrition and hydration from her brain-damaged daughter.

The woman, 53, who can only be referred to as "M" for legal reasons, is in a "minimally conscious state".

At a preliminary hearing at London's Court of Protection, Judge Mr Justice Baker said it was a "unique" case with "very important issues of principle".

The Official Solicitor, acting for the woman, is strongly opposing the bid.

Vikram Sachdeva, counsel for the mother, said that M had suffered from serious brain damage since 2003.

She was previously healthy before being struck down by encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Initially, it was thought she was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS), but subsequently the diagnosis was agreed to be that of minimal consciousness, said Mr Sachdeva.

It is this that makes the case significant, he added, as previous cases which have come before the courts have involved patients who were in PVS.

He told the court: "It is the applicant's expert's opinion that she is in a very low level minimally conscious state with no meaningful interaction with the environment."

It was also said that there was evidence she "experiences bodily pain and physical discomfort on a regular basis".

However, the court heard that the application is "strongly opposed" by the Official Solicitor, who represents M's interests.

Vulnerable cases

At the full hearing, which is expected to take place in July and last 10 days, the judge will hear expert evidence from both sides on M's level of awareness and will reach a decision on whether treatment can lawfully be withdrawn.

Caroline Harry Thomas QC, representing the Official Solicitor, said the outcome of their medical expert report was that M could respond to touch and did so.

She added: "There is clear evidence of possible communication using a switch, which was quite stark and very surprising."

She said M was medically stable and there was "no indication that she is nearing the end of her life".

It will be argued that she has "awareness" and the application will be "strongly opposed".

Most cases in the Court of Protection, which deals with sensitive matters concerning society's most vulnerable people, are heard in private.

But Mr Justice Baker said that, because of the public importance of the issues in this case, it could be reported on an anonymised basis.

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