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Right to die ruling 'clarifies law'

A High Court judge's ruling that a brain-damaged, minimally conscious woman should not be allowed to die has been hailed as a landmark decision which clarified the law relating to the care of the severely disabled.

Mr Justice Baker concluded that life-supporting treatment should not be withdrawn from the 52-year-old former hairdresser and said there was dignity in the life of a disabled person who was "well cared for and kept comfortable".

The judge said an English court had never before been asked to consider whether life-supporting treatment should be withdrawn from a patient who was not in a persistent vegetative state but was minimally conscious.

His ruling came nearly two decades after leading judges ruled that Liverpool soccer fan Tony Bland - left in a permanent vegetative state after being crushed at the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster - could be allowed to die.

Mr Justice Baker said the woman, who cannot be identified but lives at a care home in the North of England, had "some positive experiences" which could be "extended".

"The factor which does carry substantial weight, in my judgment, is the preservation of life," said the judge, who had heard legal argument during a Court of Protection hearing in London in July.

Relatives wanted artificial nutrition and hydration withdrawn and said the woman, referred to as M in court, would not want to live "a life dependent on others".

But a lawyer appointed by the High Court to represent the woman opposed the relatives' application, arguing that she was "otherwise clinically stable".

The local health authority responsible for commissioning her care also opposed the relatives' application and said the woman's life was "not without positive elements".

Mr Justice Baker heard that M suffered profound brain damage in 2003 after being diagnosed with viral encephalitis. She was in a coma for several weeks and had been thought to be in a persistent vegetative state. Doctors later concluded that she was in a minimally conscious state - a state just above a persistent vegetative state.

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