Relatives of a grandmother in her 50s left brain-damaged and paralysed from the neck down after contracting Covid-19 have won the latest stage of a life-support treatment fight.
A judge in the Court of Protection ruled earlier this year that the woman should be allowed to die.
Relatives challenged that decision at a Court of Appeal hearing a few weeks ago and appeal judges have allowed their appeal and say the case should be reheard as soon possible
Mr Justice Hayden initially considered evidence at a trial in the Court of Protection, where judges oversee hearings centred on adults who lack the mental capacity to make decisions, in London and concluded that life-support treatment should stop by the end of October.
Specialists treating the woman – who doctors have described as the most complicated Covid patient in the world – at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge said life-support treatment should end.
The woman’s relatives disagreed and said she should be given more time.
Appeal judges have raised concern about a visit Mr Justice Hayden had made to a hospital to see the woman.
They said the judge might have gained insight into the woman’s condition.
But they suggested that her relatives had not had an opportunity to comment on what the judge might have learned.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, the most senior Court of Protection judge in England and Wales, Lord Justice Moylan and Sir Nicholas Patten heard argument at a Court of Appeal hearing in London in early November.
Doctors told Mr Justice Hayden, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court, the woman was the “most complicated” Covid-19 patient in the world.
Specialists at Addenbrooke’s said there was nothing they could do to make “any aspect of her condition better” and that life-support treatment was causing her distress and adding to her “burden”.
They thought that her life expectancy could be measured in months and said moving her to a palliative care regime would enable her to die peacefully and without distress.
Mr Justice Hayden said it was the first time a judge had considered an end-of-life case as a result of Covid-19.
He heard how the woman, who was overweight and had underlying health problems, went into hospital with symptoms of Covid-19 late in 2020.
Barrister Katie Gollop QC, who represented hospital bosses, said the woman’s case appeared to be “unique”.
She said the woman was “almost entirely paralysed” and had “severe” cognitive impairment.
One specialist said the woman had complications not “described” in the UK before.
Mr Justice Hayden ruled that the woman could not be identified in media reports.
Lord Justice Moylan said in the appeal ruling that what happened when Mr Justice Hayden saw the woman in hospital could have “more than one interpretation”.
The language used by Mr Justice Hayden in his ruling was capable of indicating that “he did consider that (she) had given him some insight into her wishes”, Lord Justice Moylan said.
“If that is right, the judge’s decision is undermined for two reasons,” added Lord Justice Moylan.
“First, it is strongly arguable that the judge was not equipped properly to gain any insight into (her) wishes and feelings from his visit. Her complex medical situation meant that he was not qualified to make any such assessment.
“If the visit was used by the judge for this purpose, the validity of that assessment might well require further evidence or, at least, further submissions.
“Secondly, in order to ensure procedural fairness, the parties needed to be informed about this and given an opportunity to make submissions.”
One of the woman’s children said the relatives were “pleased” by the appeal court ruling and added: “I almost cried when I found out. It’s like a ton of bricks has been lifted off me.
“We are now preparing for the next hearing – we are preparing for everything.
“The judge based at least some of his decision on what happened when he saw my mum and asked her a question.
“When we knew that we realised it was a major, major defect in his decision.”