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RS in his youth with Pope John Paul II

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SOUTH-WEST ENGLAND, United Kingdom, January 26, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — The brain-damaged Polish Catholic at the heart of a right-to-life battle in England has died.

The deceased, known as RS, was disconnected from hydration and nutrition on January 14, a month after the expiry of a final stay of a December 15, 2020 court decision permitting the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust to discontinue RS’s “medical treatment.” 

The Polish national died earlier today despite weeks of litigation by his birth family and the Polish Government, as well as multiple petitions from people in Poland and across the world to the British Government to release RS into his government’s care. His family was notified of his death less than two hours ago.

An ill-named “Transparency Order” makes it illegal for anyone to publish details or photographs that threaten the anonymity of RS, his wife, children, doctors, hospital and members of his birth family. Nevertheless, the Polish media published photos and videos of the man in hospital as well as his first name. The many Poles who took the sick man into their hearts also referred to him as “nasz rodak” —our compatriot.  

Roger Kiska of the United Kingdom’s Christian Legal Centre, which spent over £70,000 in the fight to preserve RS’s life, told LifeSiteNews that the organization is “gutted” by RS’s untimely passing.

“We are gutted by the death of R.S.,” Kiska said via email. 

“Our prayers are with his family. We hope that because of the family’s efforts that no other person will have to see their loved ones die in such an inhumane and degrading way,” he continued.  

“We are grateful to Poland for all of the extraordinary measures it has taken to preserve his life. One must genuinely question the soul of a culture which views such measures as those that ended R.S.’s life as being an act of compassion. It is a sad day indeed.”

The legal and diplomatic struggle to keep the middle-aged, devout Catholic father alive has been described by more than one Polish commentator as a “battle with the Civilization of Death.” It involved the clash of RS’ warm-hearted Polish Catholic culture, which abhors euthanasia as a relic of the Nazi occupation, with the cold granite of contemporary British law.  

RS fell into a coma on November 6, 2020 after suffering a heart attack and sustaining serious brain damage. Although the doctors who examined RS believed that he had only a small chance of progressing to a minimally conscious state, they also testified that he might live five or more years longer on life-support. By December 23, RS was capable of breathing for himself, so his life-support consisted of clinically assisted nutrition and hydration (CANH). Subsequently doctors disagreed over whether RS had been moving from a coma into a vegetative or into a minimally conscious state in late December.

‘RS will never achieve a meaningful quality of life’

The University Hospitals Plymouth National Trust, supported by RS’s legal wife, wished to discontinue his life-support because they believed that he would never, in the words of one specialist, “achieve a meaningful quality of life.” RS’s wife testified that her husband “never wanted to be a burden if he was seriously ill” and “would not want his children to see him in his current condition” but “remember him as an able-bodied person.” 

RS’s wife also testified that he had said “that every life is precious and that you must hold on to life, and also that if anything happened to him, he would want all steps to be taken to save him.” However, she added that he said that “if he was beyond saving he did not want to be kept alive.” RS’s wife also told the court that “he would not regard removing treatment as removing life.”

However, RS’ birth family, including his mother, two sisters, and niece, remained adamantly opposed to the removal of RS’s hydration and nutrition. They pointed to his firm Catholic beliefs in the rights of the sick to life and to compassionate care. They testified that RS was opposed to abortion and euthanasia. RS had also disagreed with a court decision to end the life of Alfie Evans through the withdrawal of his life-support. 

RS’s family also argued for the depths of his Catholic faith by revealing that, although he continued to go to Mass after marrying a divorcee in a civil ceremony, he did not attempt to receive Communion. Subsequently, however, RS’s relationship with his wife was used by the court as evidence that RS might have dissented on the Church’s end-of-life teachings. 

Mr Justice Cohen sided with RS’s wife and the NHS and decided that RS would want his life-supporting treatment to end. Justice Cohen judged furthermore that ending RS’s life was in his best interests. However, he left the final decision to the NHS and RS’s wife.

“It is for the Trust and RS’s wife to decide between themselves whether hydration is to be withdrawn,” he concluded. 

“In respect of that, my order is permissive rather than mandatory.”

RS was subsequently denied nutrition and hydration—although not for long. His birth family made an emergency application to have Justice Cohen’s order stayed so that they could make an application to the Court of Appeal. On December 23, the birth family’s barrister, David Lock, QC, argued before Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Peter Jackson that there had been a procedural error and that the patient’s beliefs were not sufficiently addressed. Lock stated that, had the hearing not been so rushed, the “tenets of the Catholic faith” would have been made clearer to the court.

Neither Justice King nor Justice Jackson seemed sympathetic to this argument, especially as Lock did not state that there should have been expert testimony from an authority on Catholic teachings. Justice Jackson said that Justice Cohen had acknowledged that the Catholic Church is in “favor of preserving life” and that Cohen had understood that. Justice King, who once ruled against life-sustaining care for Alfie Evans, argued that RS was estranged from his birth family, a point which Lock contested in court and one of RS’s sisters denied in an email to LifeSiteNews. Nevertheless, the Court of Appeal denied the application and also denied an application to extend the stay of the December 15 order until RS’s mother could arrive from Poland to bid him good-bye. The next day, Christmas Eve, RS was again deprived of hydration and nutrition.

On Christmas Day, other members of RS’s birth family went to visit him in hospital. They brought a recording device that would allow a pro-life neurologist to examine him remotely. Based on the recording and the birth family’s descriptions, the neurologist believed there was evidence that RS had moved into a minimally conscious state. The family then made another successful application to stay the December 15 order so that they could present the findings to the Court of Protection. Hydration and nutrition were returned to RS on December 28. 

Mr Justice Cohen listened to the neurologist’s evidence on December 30 and gave his judgement the following day. He accused the family members of having gone to the hospital on false pretences and upbraided them for filming RS without the permission of his wife or the hospital. He refused to give any weight to the neurologist’s evidence. However, he allowed a continued stay of his order to discontinue RS’s hydration and nutrition. This was to give the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) time to consider an application of the birth family’s case.

The birth family’s applications, supported by the Polish Government, to the ECtHR were not successful. The first application was rejected by Bulgarian judge Yonko Grosev on the grounds that RS’s birth family were not closely enough related to RS. A second application was turned down by a registrar. The registrar stated that the family’s and Polish Government’s case had been “manifestly ill-founded.” Upon discovering that Grosev had once been a member of George Soros’ pro-euthanasia Open Society Foundation, the birth family began a proceeding to have him recused. This, too, failed. 

‘I trust that the civilization of life will conquer the civilization of death’

In the past two weeks the Polish Government became more visibly active in the case. On the evening of January 18, a barrister representing the hospital asked Mr Justice Cohen for an order to stop the Polish Consul General from visiting RS. The Polish Consul General and another consular official were already on their way to, or at, the hospital, ready to ensure that RS’s rights were being respected and to assist a Polish neurologist in examining RS remotely. Mr Justice Cohen, citing RS’s wife’s strong opposition to the consular visit and medical examination, gave the order forbidding either.

That same day, the Polish Secretary of State Krzysztof Szczerski had summoned the British Ambassador to a meeting. After the meeting, Szczerski tweeted: “I must admit that the conversation was difficult.”

The Polish Government’s next move was to grant RS diplomatic status on Friday, stating that this would take him out of the jurisdiction of the British courts. A Warsaw court then told the Polish authorities that they could legally take RS from Britain. Polish media reported that the passport was on its way to London. 

Poland’s Alarm Clock Clinic, which rehabilitates people with prolonged disorders of consciousness, said that it was ready to receive him. The Polish Ministry of Health assured Poland that a helicopter was ready to bring him. A Deputy Minister of Poland’s Ministry of Justice said that he was sure the “Civilization of Life” would win out over the “Civilization of Death.” 

On the weekend, however, the frenetic activity ceased. Although they were confident in, and grateful for, the help of Poland’s Ministry of Justice, RS’s family became concerned about the continued commitment of the Polish Ministry of Justice. They said that this Ministry ignored their request for evidence that RS now had diplomatic status, evidence they believed they needed to stay the December 15 order once again. 

Yesterday, one of RS’s sisters told the Polish Government that if it was not going to “take away its diplomat,” it should invoke “Article 33” before the European Court of Human Rights. This implied Poland effectively suing Britain in the ECtHR for RS’s right to life and freedom from degrading treatment. Shortly afterwards, however, she revealed that a palliative care team had reported that her brother’s condition had worsened.   

By January, the RS case had become a cause celebre in Poland. Video footage of RS in hospital with his eyes open convinced many Poles that he was not in a vegetative state and had been consciously reacting to his family members’ visit. Popular fury against the English was worsened by rumors that RS’s doctors wanted to harvest his organs. 

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, President of the Polish Bishops Conference, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, objected to the courts’ and hospital’s treatment of the Polish Catholic on the grounds that it was de facto, though not, in Britain, de jure, euthanasia. Dr. David Jones of the Anscombe Bioethics Institute offered a “briefing paper” about the controversy, in which he laid out reasoned arguments against the cessation of RS’s basic care. Jones said that his reason for writing the paper was that RS had been described as a “committed practising Catholic” with “well-attested” pro-life, anti-euthanasia views.  

To read more about the RS case, please click here.

To help cover the costs of the legal fight to keep RS alive, please click here.