Brain damaged patient allowed to die with dignity

A woman suffering from irreversible brain damage is to be allowed to die with dignity after a judge dismissed reports by two therapy assistants that she may have tried to communicate with them.

Mr Justice Roderic Wood, sitting at the Court of Protection, ruled that the patient, who suffered a catastrophic heart attack in September 2010, is in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) ‘with no sense of awareness and no prospect of recovery’.

The judge dismissed reports by the therapists that on one day in December 2011 the patient began to cry and twice said that she ‘wanted to die’ - and then reportedly whispered ‘die, die, die’ 10 times.  Rejecting this ‘one-off’ incident as evidence that the patient may not be in a vegetative state, the judge accepted expert evidence that her ‘vocalisation’ - meaningless noises that can be made by PVS patients - had been ‘innocently misinterpreted’ as ‘verbalisation’ by the therapists.

The judge said the overwhelming weight of medical evidence supported highly distinguished and experienced doctors who had diagnosed the patient as being in a vegetative state.  He declared it lawful and in the best interests of the patient (who is divorced and childless and being cared for at a neurological rehabilitation centre) for doctors and a local health board to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration.

‘There are no further investigations and treatment which should be undertaken,’ said the judge, who directed that she should receive ‘such treatment and nursing care appropriate to ensure she retains the greatest dignity until such time as her life comes to an end’.