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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 May, 2003, 04:25 GMT 05:25 UK
Euthanasia test case woman can die

By Phil Mercer
BBC correspondent in Sydney

A court in Australia has given doctors permission to stop feeding a terminally-ill woman.

The 68-year-old, known as BWV, suffers from a rare form of dementia.

Her family says she should be allowed to die with dignity.

But right-to-life campaigners have said the decision handed down by the Victoria Supreme Court will place the lives of thousands of critically ill patients at risk.

Landmark ruling

This has been an immensely complicated ethical and legal issue.

After two days of submissions and a week of deliberation, Justice Stuart Morris has decided the artificial feeding of BWV can be stopped.

He said it was now up to those responsible for her care to decide to allow her to die with dignity.

The law states that terminally-ill patients can be refused medical treatment, but not palliative or temporary care.

The judge has ruled that feeding by tube is a medical procedure and therefore can be withdrawn.

This landmark decision could have wide-ranging implications.

The case will give medical professionals in Victoria legal certainty for the first time, that they are not breaking the law if they allow people to die by withdrawing artificial nutrition and hydration.

Close to zero

BWV's family had insisted it was always her wish to be allowed to die, should her condition worsen so dramatically.

The court was told the mother of six suffers from Pick's Disease.

It is an uncommon type of dementia that causes hallucinations, nightmares and body stiffness.

A witness in the case, a specialist in the treatment of geriatrics, said her quality of life was very close to zero.

The Catholic Church and other right-to-life groups have insisted the court's decision will create a dangerous precedent in the treatment of the terminally ill.

Campaigners have warned that the lives of thousands of patients could now be at risk.

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