October 4, 2011 ( – A high court judge in Britain has ruled that the family of a brain-damaged woman is not allowed to withhold food and water to cause her death.

Justice Baker ruled last week that the 52-year-old patient known publicly only as M should not be allowed to starve to death because her life still contained some positive elements.

Her family had argued that M’s daily routine was too limited for her to want to continue living.

“She cannot enjoy a drink, a cup of tea or anything. She has got no pleasures in life,” M’s sister told the court. “Just a daily routine of being taken out of bed, put in a chair and put back in bed. Shower, doubly incontinent. It is just awful. It’s not life. It’s existence. And I know she would not want that.”

But Justice Baker said that he accepted the witness of caretakers testifying that M, who is not fully alert but still conscious, should be allowed to live and continue treatment. “M does have positive experiences and … although her life is extremely restricted, it is not without pleasures, albeit small ones,” he stated.

The family’s lawyer, Yogi Amin, told the press that the family’s ordeal caring for M has been “extremely heartbreaking” and criticized the judge for ruling M should be given food and water.

“The law has been clarified and, going forward, in all such cases of patients who are in a minimally conscious state, the High Court does now have the power to decide on whether it is in that patient’s best interests for treatment to continue, or whether the patient should be allowed to die naturally, with dignity,” said Amin.

Alex Schadenburg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition lamented that the decision whether M ought to be subjected to an excruciating death by dehydration came to rest on the “quality of life” she was deemed to have.

“All forms of euthanasia reduce the value of certain human beings and deny equality and dignity to every human being,” wrote Schadenburg on his blog.

The leader notes that the UK has routinely dehydrated to death individuals who were not dying but deemed to be in a Persistent Vegetative State (PVS) ever since a 1993 court ruling. This case is different, he notes, because M is clearly conscious – but the case was still too close for comfort.

“We applaud the decision by Justice Baker, while recognizing that until the Bland decision is redefined, that other cognitively disabled people, such as ‘M’ will intentionally die by dehydration, even though they would not be otherwise dying,” he said.


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