The life of ‘M’ is safe – Protection upheld for a helpless patient


The ProLife Alliance welcomes today’s judgment which will protect the life of a 53 year old woman with minimal consciousness, known only as ‘M’.


In 2003 ‘M’ suffered brain damage, although she is not in what is called a “persistent vegetative state”, or PVS.  She responds to touch, can make some arm movements, and shows other interaction with her carers.   


Family members made an application to the Court of Protection for her food and hydration to be withdrawn to bring an end to her life.  The Official Solicitor and the family’s local NHS Trust opposed the application.  


An attempt by the ProLife Alliance to intervene on behalf of ‘M’ was declined.  We are grateful to specialist Court of Protection barrister Laura Davidson for her advice and assistance on our proposed intervention.


We applaud today’s decision that the court’s reasoning adopted in the Tony Bland case cannot be extended to patients who are in a minimally conscious state.  It would have been an outrage to human decency had the court granted the application and the declarations sought, and a failure by the state to protect society’s most vulnerable.  Such a decision would have been a flagrant breach of human rights, including both Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to freedom from torture and inhuman degrading punishment or treatment), as well as the right to life under Article 2 – in essence, an endorsement of murder.


We would also like to draw attention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disability, signed by the UK in 2009. Article 25 (f) of this Convention state that parties to the Convention must take "all appropriate measures" in particular to "prevent discriminatory denial of health care of health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability"


A helpless patient should be entitled to be fed, given liquid, kept clean and pain-free, and treated medically insofar as it is helpful.   These are basic human rights which the courts have disgracefully denied to some 42 patients since the Bland case in 1993.


It should be noted that astonishing recoveries from serious cases of brain injury are not unknown, including that of Richard Rudd, who had locked-in syndrome and indicated by blinking that he wished to remain alive only hours before his life support machine was due to be turned off.


In welcoming this judgment we must now turn our attention to the original Bland decision and work to have this reversed by Parliament so that the human rights of all vulnerable patients are properly protected.