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2002: Woman granted 'right to die'
A woman paralysed from the neck down has won the legal right to die by having her treatment withdrawn.

The judge in the case then urged her to reconsider her decision.

The 43-year-old woman, known as Miss B after she was granted anonymity, watched via a video-link from her hospital bed as Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss delivered the landmark ruling.

She is a splendid person and it is tragic that someone of her ability has been struck down so cruelly
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss
Miss B, who was born in Jamaica but moved to Britain aged eight, said afterwards: "I am very pleased with the outcome."

It means doctors at the hospital where she is being treated, which cannot be identified, will have to switch off the ventilator keeping her alive whenever she chooses.

Dame Elizabeth said the former social care professional had the "necessary mental capacity" to make the decision to reject treatment.

But she added: "She is a splendid person and it is tragic that someone of her ability has been struck down so cruelly.

"I hope she will forgive me for saying, diffidently, that if she did reconsider her decision she would have a lot to offer the community at large."

Unlawful trespass

Miss B, who has never married and does not have children, was paralysed last year after a burst blood vessel in her neck, and she can only breathe with the aide of a ventilator.

She said it had left her with an "unbearable quality of life" and doctors have told her there is only a 1% chance of recovery from paralysis.

Doctors at the hospital opposed her application to switch off the ventilator because it would breach their ethical code and they argued with more time they could improve Miss B's quality of life which could ultimately lead her to reconsider.

But Miss B can now demand at any time doctors withdraw treatment.

She has already agreed to a cooling-off period to see if rehabilitation improves the quality of her life.

Dame Elizabeth ordered the NHS trust to pay nominal damages of 100 for "unlawful trespass" in keeping Miss B alive against her wishes, and legal costs.

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Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss described Miss B as "a splendid person"


In Context
As part of the ruling Dame Elizabeth gave Miss B the right to be transferred to another hospital which would treat her according to her wishes "and permit her life to end peacefully and with dignity".

Little more than a month later Miss B died peacefully in her sleep after exercising her right to have all artificial ventilation withdrawn.

The case sparked widespread controversy about a person's right to take their own life but there were few legal ramifications from this case.

It only reaffirmed the rights that already exist in law, that any individual has the right to refuse medical treatment so long as they have the mental capacity to do so.

Many pro-life groups argued however it gave the wrong message to the physically handicapped, while euthanasia groups said it strengthened their case that those who are unwell but cannot take their own lives should be helped.

Stories From 22 Mar


 
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