By Hilary White

  LONDON, January 18, 2007 ( – The husband of a woman dehydrated to death at his own request, is demanding an inquiry into the use, against her family’s wishes, of an experimental drug before her death. “Jessica,” (not the woman’s real name) was 53 years old and had been in what doctors described as a “persistent vegetative state” for three years.

  Although the family had asked that she be dehydrated to death, the High Court ruled on the recommendation of the Official Solicitor Laurence Oates, that she should be given a course of the anti-insomnia drug Zolpiden that has caused some patients in a permanently unconscious state partially to recover. Only if she failed to respond to the drug, could she have the assisted nutrition and hydration removed and be “allowed to die.”

  The family had already had her respirator removed and Jessica breathed on her own for another three years. After the Zolpiden trial failed, Jessica’s nutrition and hydration tubes were removed immediately and she died 14 days later just before Christmas.

  Jessica’s husband, “Nick”, whose full name has not been given in the press, told The Daily Telegraph, “What happened to Jessica was alien and inhumane.” But he was referring only to the use of the drug, not to her death by dehydration.

  Nick reiterated that she would have wanted to be “allowed to die” and compared his unconscious wife to a car that had all the systems running well, “but for all that these things were working the driver was long gone and nobody else could drive it.”

  He and the family had objected to the drug proposal, fearing that Jessica would be aware of having lost her normal functioning if she were to resume consciousness. “Somewhere along the line people have forgotten that just because you can perform a particular medical treatment doesn’t necessarily mean that you should… I find it staggering that she was given it,” Nick told the Telegraph.

  He is also complaining, however, that his wife’s death by dehydration was not “dignified.”“If she was a dog and we said it was incurable and we said I’m going to lock it in its kennel and not feed it, I think the RSPCA would be knocking at your door,” he said to the BBC.

  Fr. Tim Finigan, a British Catholic priest and founder of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life, commented that the case is a precursor to more calls for active euthanasia. “After this widely publicised case, expect more calls for lethal injections, and much justifying of the Mental Capacity Act,” Fr. Finigan said.

  Finigan noted the press has downplayed the significance of the means of Jessica’s death. The press has, he said, “slipped in quietly” the fact that Jessica was dehydrated to death while incapacitated.

“The reporting of the case seems to be taking this practice as normal nowadays… To withdraw food is to withdraw basic care – and the intent of hastening death is clear enough in this case.” He said that the case is being used to “muddy the waters and promote euthanasia.”

  The Official Solicitor, Laurence Oates who pressed the High Court for the drug trial, came under fire in 2000, when members of Britain’s disability rights community denounced him for his role as Official Solicitor in the case of two conjoined twins who were surgically separated at the order of the court. Oates, against the parents’ wishes, pushed for the surgical separation of Jodie and Mary Attard that left Mary dead while her sister survived.

  Simone Aspis of the disability group Changing Perspectives wrote at the time, “Laurence Oates… cannot be trusted defend the equal rights of any disabled person, especially those of us who do not advocate for ourselves.”

  Read previous coverage:
  UK Court Orders Sleeping Pill Treatment for Brain-Damaged Patient

  Catholics in UK Carrying ID Cards Asking Not to be Starved to Death in Hospitals

  Visit the website of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life:


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