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Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 00:21 GMT
Woman welcomes 'right to die' ruling
High court graphic
The ruling will affect future right-to-die arguments
A woman paralysed from the neck down has welcomed a High Court decision giving her the right to die.

The 43-year-old woman, known only as 'Miss B', said the ruling that her life support machine could be switched off was "a balanced and well thought-out judgement".

The judge, Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss, said the former social care professional had the "necessary mental capacity" to decide to refuse treatment, even if that meant her death.

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".

'Painful process'

Miss B, who watched the judgement from her bed via a video link, expressed her regret at having to go through the courts to win the right to refuse treatment.

This has been a long and unnecessary and personally painful process

Miss B
In the statement she said: "The law of consent of treatment is very clear and this has been a long and unnecessary, and personally painful, process.

"I hope the judgement will be a useful document for future decision making."

Miss B has been told there is only a 1% chance of recovery from her paralysis, caused when a blood vessel ruptured in her neck more than a year ago.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss
Dame Elizabeth said Miss B was "splendid"
She has been on a ventilator ever since as she cannot breathe unaided.

Miss B's solicitor, Frances Swaine, said: "The hospital should have been fulfilling her wishes with regard to withdrawing treatment. It's entirely up to her how to choose - I am sure she will make that decision in her own good time."

She said that Miss B's family had been "entirely supportive".

'Worse than death'

Dame Elizabeth, who met Miss B at a hospital in the London area, awarded her nominal 100 damages for "trespass" - for the unwanted medical treatment involving the ventilator.

Q and A: Right-to-die
• What are key issues?
• Why a unique case?
• What about future?   Click here

She said: "One must allow for those as severely disabled as Miss B, for some of whom life in that condition may be worse than death."

Dame Elizabeth said Miss B was "clearly a splendid person" and added her own personal message.

She said: "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."

'Very negative image'

Doctors had argued that if they were given time to try to improve Miss B's quality of life - with, for instance, various rehabilitation aids - they might change her mind.

My heart goes out to this woman -
Paul Charters, England

To read more of your comments, click here

They opposed her argument because it defied their guiding principles to protect life.

But Dr Michael Wilks, from the British Medical Association, welcomed the verdict.

He told the BBC: "I think that this reminds us that to some extent it's very easy, for the best of possible motives, to impose our judgements, our values, on patients instead of actually listening to what they want."

But former judo champion Owen Lowery, who is also paralysed from the neck down, raised doubts about the ruling.

He said: "It projects a very negative image and I think that we should be looking at how we can contribute to the community, rather than how we can remove ourselves from the community."

The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Whatever happens, it will be Miss B's decision"
Miss B's solicitor Frances Swaine
"This is a balanced and well thought out judgment"
Anti-euthanasia group ALERT's Dr Howitt-Wilson
"I am horrified by the decision"
See also:

23 Jan 02 | Health
Right-to-die case fast-tracked
04 Oct 01 | Health
Woman granted right to die
05 Oct 00 | Health
Court hears 'right to die' cases
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