Man unidentified in psychiatric hospital for 30 years may have DNA taken

Patient in 80s or 90s was first admitted in 1980s but essentially remains a ‘John Doe’

 

The Health Service Executive may seek High Court permission to take a DNA sample from an unidentified vulnerable elderly man, who has been in a psychiatric hospital here for more than 30 years, in a bid to identify him.

Now believed to be in his late 80s or early 90s, the man was first admitted to the psychiatric hospital after being taken there by gardaí in the mid-1980s. He was reported to be living “a hermit’s life” and sleeping rough in a bus shelter with a dog who he said he had “on loan”. He had also referred to living in Dublin “for years”.

At some point after his admission, he was given a name and an estimated date of birth of 1930, but essentially remains a “John Doe”. Efforts to establish his true identity and to find next of kin have so far proven unsuccessful but were reactivated in recent years arising from advances in technology.

The man has a history of mental illness, along with physical health conditions.

His case first came before the High Court last May when Lebeau Jonker, a solicitor for the HSE, secured an order, in the context of intended wardship proceedings, to have a court-appointed doctor visit the man for the purpose of assessing his capacity.

The court also appointed solicitor Alec Gabot to represent him in the wardship matter.

When the case returned on Tuesday before Mr Justice Mark Heslin, the judge was satisfied, on foot of the medical visitor’s report and other medical evidence, that the man lacks capacity and should be taken into wardship.

David Leahy, for the HSE, said, while the normal procedure in wardship is to seek orders preventing identification of a ward, the HSE may in this case seek to take steps aimed at identifying the man, including applying for an order permitting the taking of a DNA sample from him.

In his report to the court, Mr Gabot said he had visited the man in an effort to establish his views but the man was incapable of giving expression to them.

Although the man has no identified family, “he has made staff and other patients at the hospital his family”, Mr Gabot said. As his guardian, he was content the man is appropriately placed.

When he queried whether the man should be moved to some other hospital or to a nursing home, the nursing staff’s eyes had “filled with tears”, he added.

The wardship application was initiated last May in a situation where the man’s physical health was deteriorating and he has had a number of hospital admissions. His clinical team considered it would not be appropriate to resuscitate him should his condition deteriorate further to a situation where resuscitation is required. Rather than a further hospital admission, they believe he should be made comfortable where he is.

The man had expressed a desire not to be sent to a general hospital should his condition deteriorate but doctors were concerned whether he had capacity to make decisions about his health and welfare.

They were also concerned any decision against resuscitation should have a legal basis.