In an agonising decision which involved balancing the sanctity of human existence against an individual’s quality of life, a stroke victim’s life will be cut short by many years after a judge granted doctors permission to cease attempts to give her food and drink.
The woman was only in her mid-50s and could have lived into old age. However, she was in a ‘minimally conscious state’ and had shown no signs of recovery. She had physically resisted attempts to tube feed her and her loved ones had said that they had no wish to see her suffer any further. Doctors said that, although it would be possible to continue feeding her, attempts to do so would be highly intrusive and would involve sedation or ‘severe restraint’.
The judge underlined the ‘strong presumption in favour of the preservation of life’ and acknowledged that, if successfully fed, hydrated and medicated, the woman would be kept alive for many more years in relative comfort. She would continue to experience life as a sensate being with a degree of awareness of herself and her environment.
However, she no longer had the mental capacity to make choices about her own treatment and the judge was convinced that further attempts at artificial feeding would not be in her best interests. She would endure much pain and suffering if she lived on and her medical care would be invasive and laden with risk.
The judge granted a declaration that doctors can lawfully withdraw both liquids and nutrition from the woman. She said that the woman would continue to receive palliative care so that ‘she suffers the least distress and retains the greatest dignity until such time as her life comes to an end.”