Durham stroke victim given the right to die with dignity

Doctors treating the elderly Durham stroke victim were unanimous in their views that all that could now be done for her was to ease her passing

The High Court in London
The High Court in London

An elderly Durham stroke victim has been granted the right to die with dignity by a High Court judge

The 'very frail' woman, in her late eighties, was languishing in a local hospital somewhere between a ‘vegetative’ and ‘minimal awareness’ state.

Unable to speak or eat normally, she was asleep most of the time and one expert had described her as being in ‘pre-terminal hibernation’.

Doctors treating her were unanimous in their views that all that could now be done for her was to ease her passing.

On Thursday, following an anguished hearing at London’s High Court, Mr Justice Cobb opened the way for a ‘do not resuscitate’ notice to be put on her bed.

He told the court: “There are cases in which it will not be in a person’s best interests to receive life-sustaining treatment.”

Artificial feeding, said the judge, would probably cause her more harm than good and attempts at CPR, or other forms of resuscitation, if she suffered a cardiac or respiratory arrest, might result in serious, even fatal, injury.

Any such bid to save her life would be “futile, burdensome and unpleasant”, he said.

The woman’s daughter and son-in-law had expressed ‘considerable concerns’ about her treatment. The son-in-law believed the decision to withdraw sustenance was ‘too hasty’ and he had ‘lost confidence in the treating team’.

However, by the end of the hearing, both of them had withdrawn “material opposition” to the Trust’s application.

Paying tribute to the care shown by the woman’s family, the judge said: “I do not for one moment understate their upset at seeing her life ebb away.

“From the little I know, she has obviously had a rich and happy life, valuing, and being valued by, her loving family.”

However, he accepted expert evidence that the woman is very unlikely to make any recovery or regain any “meaningful quality of life.”

Doctors were unanimous that she was “in the terminal phase of her life.”

The ruling means that, although they will continue to hydrate the pensioner, medics at the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust can now abandon attempts to tube feed her. If she suffers a cardiac or respiratory arrest, no attempt will be made to resuscitate her.

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