Woman with brain damage after heroin overdose should be allowed to die – judge

A woman who suffered severe brain damage after taking a heroin overdose five years ago should be allowed to die, a judge in a specialist court has ruled.

The woman, who is in her late 40s, had been diagnosed as either being in a vegetative or minimally conscious state by specialists, Mr Justice MacDonald had heard.

He has given medics permission to stop providing water and food by artificial means.

The judge had analysed the case at a hearing in the Court of Protection, where issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions are considered, in Preston, Lancashire, and has outlined his decision in a written ruling published online.

He said the woman, who had been raised in the north-west of England and had been cared for in a nursing home for several years, could not be identified in media reports of the case.

People who knew her when she was well described a “party girl” who enjoyed being the centre of attention and loved dancing and singing, the judge had been told.

Doctors said she was now “completely immobile”, fed by tube and dependent on a tracheostomy.

A specialist said she had a life-expectancy of between four and six years.

Health authority bosses asked the judge for permission to withdraw life-sustaining treatment after family members said she would “not want to live like this”.

Relatives said, when well, she had spoken of not wanting to be kept alive in such circumstances.

Some nursing home staff had been “somewhat more optimistic” and had spoken of her smiling, grimacing and lifting her legs.

The judge said he had given “careful consideration” to their evidence.

But he said they had not known her when she was well.

He said their “pro-life” approach was contrary to the view she had “clearly expressed” before becoming ill.

“They have not had the benefit that the family have had of knowing (her) when she was capacitous and of seeing and experiencing all of the many varied facets of her character, what she thought, what was dear to her, what she wished for the future and, importantly, what she believed about the situation in which she now finds herself,” said Mr Justice MacDonald.

“Whilst the ‘pro-life’ approach (as they themselves describe it) taken by a number of the members of staff in the current situation is a valid point of view, in the circumstances of this case I am satisfied that it is contrary to (her) clearly expressed view … before she lost capacity.”

He added: “The court can be sufficiently certain that (she) would not in her current situation have consented to on-going life sustaining treatment, a position that is consistent with all that the court understands about her beliefs, her outlook and her personality, and with the clearly and consistently expressed views of her loving family, borne of their direct experience of her views and wishes and of who she was.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) NickAnsell / PA Wire.