Court approves starving brain-injured to death

By Bob Unruh

Mary Schindler and her daughter, Terri Schiavo
Mary Schindler and her daughter, Terri Schiavo

A stunning verdict from the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court has opened the door for seriously brain-injured patients to be starved to death if their doctors and family members agree to it.

The ruling comes despite the reports of patients who have recovered after being unconscious for extended periods.

The decision came in the case of “Mr. Y,” who had cardiac arrest that resulted in brain damage.

The question was whether a decision by the doctors and family to deprive the patient of food and water until death needed to be approved by a court.

Said the ruling: “Having looked at the issue in its wider context as well as from a narrower legal perspective, I do not consider that it has been established that the common law or the [European Court of Human Rights], in combination or separately, give rise to the mandatory requirement, for which the Official Solicitor contends, to involve the court to decide upon the best interests of every patient with a prolonged disorder of consciousness before [food and water] can be withdrawn.

“If there is agreement upon what is in the best interests of the patient, the patient may be treated in accordance with that agreement without application to the court.”

The opinion was written by Lady Black and joined by four other judges.

The Christian Institute noted the loss of the “important safeguard” for brain-injured patients.

Previously, the report said, independent experts in the Court of Protection would have been required to consider Mr. Y’s case.

But the court ruling means that requirement no longer is necessary. In fact, the ruling found that nutrition and hydration are “medical treatment.”

The decision aligns with the results in the Terri Schiavo case more than a decade ago in the United States. A court determined Schiavo, who suffered brain injuries in a still-unexplained collapse in her home, could be deprived of food and water.

Peter Saunders of the Care Not Killing campaign said in the Christian Institute report, “This is concerning and disappointing news, because it removes an important safeguard from those without a voice.”

He continued: “Once we accept that death by dehydration is in some brain-damaged people’s ‘best interests’ we are on a very slippery slope indeed. There is a clear difference between turning off a ventilator on a brain-dead patient and removing [food and water] from a brain-damaged patient.”

The institute report explained Mr. Y’s physician determined that if he regained consciousness he still would be dependent on others, and the medical team and his family both agreed to end his food and water.

“The Supreme Court did make clear that there is a difference of opinion, if the Court of Protection should still be involved,” the institute report said. “But Melanie Phillips, a columnist for The Times, warned that hospitals could pressure families into agreement and courts could minimize loved-ones’ views.”

The case ended up in the courts when the National Health Service Trust requested a ruling that “it was not mandatory to seek the court’s approval” for the actions.

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Mr. Y died of acute respiratory sepsis before the plan could be carried out, but the court continued the case anyway, to set a precedent.

On the 10th anniversary of Schiavo’s death, WND reported the issue remained a hot controversy.

At the time a feeding tube was removed from Schiavo in 2005, she swallowed, laughed and loved, said her brother, Bobby Schindler, who insisted she was not in a persistent vegetative state as media reported.

Less than two weeks later, she died of starvation and dehydration.

“If you go back and look at her records, she was starting to form words,” her brother told WND at the time. “It was really encouraging to our family, and to Michael (Terri’s husband) right at first.”


Several similar cases have developed since Terri’s death in which coma patients suddenly awakened, sometimes telling stories of having been able to hear people talking about them while in the coma.

WND reported on the case of Martin Pistorius, who in the 1980s fell into a coma. In a vegetative state for 12 years, he later began talking, using a computer, and was mobile in a wheelchair. During those 12 years, he was aware of his surroundings and remembers conversations, including one time when his mother said, “I hope you die.”

A few years ago, a woman was in a short coma due to a medical condition, and her husband made the difficult decision after several days to halt her life support. She immediately became restless, woke up and said: “Get me out of here. … Take me to Ted’s and take me to the Melting Pot,” naming two Mexican restaurants.

ABC News reported several years ago when a college student horribly injured in a car pileup and in a coma was being reviewed as an organ donor after months of unconsciousness. Suddenly, one night, he wiggled his fingers, and soon he was moving around in a wheelchair and talking.

Then a new study from Northwestern University confirmed that patients in comas “recovered consciousness significantly faster and had an improved recover” when they heard their family members telling familiar stories.


WND has been reporting on the Terri Schiavo story since 2002 – far longer than most other national news organizations – and exposing the many troubling, scandalous and possibly criminal aspects of the case that to this day rarely surface in news reports. Read WND’s unparalleled, in-depth coverage of the life-and-death fight over Terri Schiavo, including more than 150 original stories and columns.

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