22 Mar, 2002
A woman paralysed from the neck down has been told that she should be allowed to die.
The 43-year-old British social worker, known only as Miss B, was delivered the verdict by the High Court this morning.
She will now be able to tell doctors to switch off the life support machine which is keeping her alive.
The judge, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, ruled that Miss B was competent to make the decision to end her life peacefully and with dignity.
She found that the hospital in question, which also cannot be named, had been acting unlawfully by forcing Miss B to stay alive on the ventilator, and awarded her nominal damages of £100 for "unlawful trespass".
Miss B, who has never married and who has no children, has been on a ventilator for more than a year, after a blood vessel ruptured in her neck.
She has been told that she has a 1% chance of recovery.
The landmark ruling upholds the right of mentally competent patients to decide on their medical treatment.
Although Miss B had been declared mentally competent in August 2001, doctors had argued that if they were given the chance to try to improve her quality of life, she might change her mind.
Miss B now has the right to be transferred from intensive care to another hospital where doctors may carry out her request, although she has made no indication she wishes to move immediately.
In a statement given through her solicitors after the ruling, Miss B said: "This is a balanced and well thought out judgment and I am very pleased with the outcome of this case.
"The law on consent to treatment is very clear and this has been a long and unnecessary and personally painful process.
"I hope the judgment will be a useful document for future decision-making," she added.
Deborah Annetts, Director of The Voluntary Euthanasia Society, said: "This is a victory for common sense. This case has confirmed that patient choice must be at the centre of all treatment decisions.
"We hope that in future no one will have to go to court just to have their well-established rights enforced."
Meanwhile, the Disability Rights Commission issued a statement calling for the case to be put into perspective.
Liz Sayce, Director of Policy and Communications, said:” We live in a society which still pities severely disabled people and views death as the best option for them.”
“For many people living in similar circumstances to Miss B’s, life is not a living death, it’s a life worth living.”
The Voluntary Euthanasia Society: http://www.ves.org.uk