It is in the public interest that cases such as that involving a woman in a minimally conscious state whose family wanted her to be allowed to die should be “reported as widely and freely as possible”, according to a judge in the Court of Protection.
The declaration came from Mr Justice Baker on September 28 as he held that life-supporting treatment should not be withdrawn from the patient, a brain-damaged 52-year-old former hairdresser, who can be referred to only as M.
Mr Justice Baker said there was dignity in the life of a disabled person who was “well cared for and kept comfortable”.
An English court had never before been asked to consider whether life-supporting treatment should be withdrawn from a patient who was not in a persistent vegetative state but was minimally conscious, he said.
The woman, who lives at a care home in the North of England, had “some positive experiences” which could be “extended”, Mr Justice Baker said, adding: “The factor which does carry substantial weight, in my judgment, is the preservation of life.”
The judge had decided earlier this year that the case should be heard at a public hearing, but with strict reporting restrictions in place to ensure that neither M nor her family or carers could be identified.
He also issued an injunction prohibiting the media from going within a certain distance of the home where M is being cared for, and from approaching her family and carers.
Mr Justice Baker said when he handed down his final judgment that the decision to hold the hearing in public had been vindicated.
The judge, who visited the care home during the proceedings, said: “Provided that the privacy of the individuals involved is fully respected, it is imperative that the press should be as free as possible to report cases of this sort.
“The issues involved are of fundamental importance to all of us, both collectively and individually.
“For society as a whole, they touch upon the very challenging issues, currently the subject of much public debate, about the treatment of those suffering from severe disability, and those nearing the end of their lives.
“For each of us as individuals, they draw attention to the question of how we would wish to be treated should we find ourselves in a vegetative or minimally conscious state.
“The public needs to be informed about how such questions are resolved, be it under the advance decision procedure in sections 24 to 26 of the Mental Capacity Act or by application to the Court of Protection.
“It is therefore in the public interest for such cases to be reported as widely and freely as possible, provided that due respect is paid to the wishes of the family to protect their privacy.”