Belfast Telegraph

Irish court rules life support for pregnant mum be ended to allow a dignified death

By Brian Hutton

Doctors in Ireland have been granted permission to switch off a life support machine which is keeping a clinically-dead woman alive because she is pregnant.

In a landmark ruling, Dublin's High Court said keeping the young mother alive would deprive her of dignity in death and subject her father, partner and two young children to "unimaginable distress" in a "futile exercise".

The panel of judges said it was in the best interest of the unborn child to authorise the withdrawal of life support in what was a "tragic and unfortunate case". The High Court added that it was a case of "great public importance".

The 26-year-old was pronounced clinically dead on December 3 after suffering a trauma injury last month. Her family had sought to switch the equipment off to preserve her dignity.

But doctors refused, fearing they might be prosecuted under Ireland's strict Catholic-influenced abortion laws, which give the 18-week-old foetus the same constitutional rights as the mother.

Under the Irish Constitution, the foetus is regarded as a citizen.

In their ruling, president of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Ms Justice Marie Baker and Ms Justice Caroline Costello agreed the unborn baby had little chance of survival.

"The condition of the mother is failing at such a rate and to such a degree that it will not be possible for the pregnancy to progress much further or to a point where any form of live birth will be possible," they said.

Medical evidence showed the unborn child was facing into a "perfect storm" with no realistic prospect of emerging alive.

Doctors with the best interests of both the mother and unborn child do not believe there is any medical or ethically based reason for continuing with the "grotesque" process, the court was told.

The woman's father took the case against Ireland's Health Service Executive (HSE) after agreeing with the woman's partner that the life support should be switched off.

"He wanted her to have a dignified death and be put to rest," the court ruling stated. "His daughter's two children are aware that their mother is sick and believe she is being looked after by the nurses 'until the angels appear'."

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said: "I wish to convey my heartfelt sympathies to the family and partner of the woman at the centre of this case at this most difficult time, particularly given the season. This case and the judgment will need to be carefully examined before I can make any further comment on it. In the meantime, I would ask that the privacy of this family is respected at this so difficult and challenging time."

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There is to be no appeal of the decision by either side in the case. Paul Connors, communications director with the HSE, said it was a welcome decision at the end of a very traumatic number of days for the family. "Certainly, it brings a great degree of clarity to these particular situations," he said.

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