The family of a Muslim man from Greater Manchester who is in a persistent vegetative state are fighting in the High Court for him to receive - against medical advice - life-saving treatment if his condition deteriorates.
A judge was told the family of patient “L” believes that if the severely brain-damaged 55-year-old could express his wishes he would never agree, because of his faith, to an order that he should not be resuscitated or ventilated.
Pennine Acute Hospitals Trust, which is responsible for his care, is seeking a court declaration that it would not be in his best interests to offer him ventilation or resuscitation if there was “a life-threatening event”.
Claire Watson, appearing for the trust, said it was the unanimous view of clinicians treating L, as well as independent experts, that the family man was in a persistent vegetative state “with minimal prospects of improving any neurological function and no meaningful prospect of further recovery”.
“The consensus of opinion is that in the event of significant deterioration L should not be actively resuscitated or ventilated.”
Ms Watson told Mr Justice Moylan, sitting in the Court of Protection in London: “Rather than there being the prolongation of life, there would be the prolongation of death and lack of dignity.” But the judge was told it was the family’s view that “life is sacred and it would be contrary to the tenets of their religion not to provide life-supporting treatment”.
The family also believes L, who suffered a cardiac arrest in mid-July which resulted in severe brain damage, is not as “unresponsive” as the doctors suggest. The judge was told that, since mother and son had signed their court statements, family members on daily visits to hospital had continued to observe “some degree of responsiveness” on L’s part. They are arguing that it is “simply too soon” to determine whether L is in a “permanent” vegetative state, or to conclude that his quality of life would be so limited or wretched - as one doctor had concluded - to make life-saving treatment futile.
An independent expert in intensive care jointly instructed by both parties stated that it was “absolutely unrealistic” to expect any further neurological recovery from such a “minimally conscious state”. An independent expert in neurology also jointly instructed accepted that prognosis was notoriously difficult in PVS cases but also supported the trust’s position.
A senior doctor gave evidence at odds with family assertions that L had recently shown “some degree of responsiveness”. The doctor told the court that, between 18 July and Monday, he was not aware of any improvement. He said: “Not a single member of staff has expressed that they have seen any purposeful movements.”
The hearing continues on Tuesday.