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British Court Upholds Woman's Right to Die

March 23, 2002|From Associated Press

LONDON — A paralyzed woman who wants doctors to remove the ventilator that keeps her alive has a right to die, a British judge ruled Friday.

The case was apparently the first in Britain in which a mentally competent patient had applied for the right to terminate life-sustaining treatment.

The High Court ruling was relayed by video link to the hospital bedside of the woman, identified only as B.

B was paralyzed from the neck down when a blood vessel ruptured in her neck a year ago, and is unable to breathe unaided. She told the court she fully understood the implications of being removed from the ventilator and wanted to die.

Her doctors argued that it would be unethical to switch off the ventilator.

The judge ruled that B had the necessary mental capacity to give or refuse consent to life-sustaining medical treatment, adding that for someone as severely disabled as the patient, "life in that condition may be worse than death."

In a statement issued through her lawyers, the woman said she was pleased with the judgment but upset that she had been forced to take court action.

"The law on consent to treatment is very clear and this has been a long, and unnecessary and personally painful process," she said. She hasn't indicated when she will have the ventilator turned off.

The hospital's lawyer, Robert Francis, said he regretted the distress, "however unintentionally caused," to the patient.

"This is not a right-to-die case," Dr. Anthony Cole, chairman of the independent Medical Ethics Alliance, said. "The judge has upheld the right to refuse treatment. This has long been the situation of English law."

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