Judge considers evidence in case of woman left brain damaged by Covid-19

·3-min read
A general view of The Court of Protection and Central Family Court, in High Holborn, central London (PA) (PA Archive)
A general view of The Court of Protection and Central Family Court, in High Holborn, central London (PA) (PA Archive)

A judge has been asked to decide whether a woman left brain damaged and paralysed from the neck down after contracting Covid-19 should be allowed to die.

Mr Justice Hayden is considering evidence at an online trial, due to end later this week, in the Court of Protection where judges oversee hearings centred on adults who lack the mental capacity to make decisions.

Specialists treating the woman, who is in her 50s, at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge say life-support treatment should end. The woman’s children, and sister, disagree.

A lawyer representing hospital bosses told Mr Justice Hayden on Tuesday that the woman’s case appeared to be unique.

It is the first time a court has been asked to consider an end-of-life case, as a result of Covid. I suspect therefore it is a case that will attract a lot of public attention

Mr Justice Hayden

Mr Justice Hayden, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court in London, said it was the first case of its kind.

“It is the most extreme example of its kind, and it is the first time in the whole of the pandemic that I have been asked to make an end-of-life decision in relation to Covid-19,” said Mr Justice Hayden, at the start of the trial.

“It is the first time a court has been asked to consider an end-of-life case, as a result of Covid. I suspect therefore it is a case that will attract a lot of public attention.”

The judge said the woman could not be identified in media reports of the case.

Mr Justice Hayden is due to hear evidence from specialists and from the woman’s relatives.

He said he would consider evidence relating to what the woman would have wanted as well as medical evidence.

One specialist told him that the woman’s family were in “daily torture”.

He said the woman’s case had played out in “just the most horrific way”.

Detail of the case emerged at a preliminary hearing in July.

Barrister Katie Gollop QC, who is representing hospital bosses, told the judge that the woman had gone into hospital on an “emergency basis” late in 2020 and was on a ventilator.

Ms Gollop said the woman’s case appeared to be “unique”.

She said the woman was “almost entirely paralysed”, had “severe” cognitive impairment, and told the judge: “There is nothing they can do to make any aspect of her condition better.”

Ms Gollop said specialists thought the woman’s future would be “slanted towards pain and discomfort”.

She said the woman’s family thought that some of the treatment provided had been “negligent”.

Ms Gollop said relatives thought hospital bosses had made the Court of Protection application because they wished to “cover up” the consequences of that “negligent treatment”.

The woman was represented by staff from the office of the Official Solicitor, who help vulnerable people embroiled in litigation.

Nageena Khalique QC, who led the woman’s legal team, told the judge that the case was “exceptionally difficult”.

She said Official Solicitor Sarah Castle had yet to reach a “final position” as to where the woman’s best interests lay.

Ms Khalique said the woman had underlying health problems, including diabetes.

The judge was also told by a specialist that the woman was a “little overweight”.

Ms Khalique said there was “no direct record” of what the woman would want to happen “in this situation”.

But she said there was evidence that the woman had a “strong religious conviction”.

Ms Khalique said the woman’s family argued that she “would not want to end her life in this way”, as it would be “tantamount to suicide”.

“Prior to being admitted to hospital with symptoms of Covid-19 (she) was diagnosed as a Type II diabetic,” said Ms Khalique.

“She had also been diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism, arthralgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, ulnar impaction syndrome and a finding of gallstones.” Ms Khalique added: “(She) was noted to be overweight.”

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