Mother seeks orders that would allow daughter in vegetative state to die

Woman believes feeding/hydration regime is ‘cruel’, contrary to her child’s dignity

A mother has brought an application for High Court orders halting the artificial feeding and hydration of her daughter, aged in her 20s and in a vegetative state for almost 10 years.

The mother believes the feeding/hydration regime is “cruel”, contrary to her daughter’s dignity and best interests and that, if her daughter could express a view, she would not wish it to continue, High Court president Mr Justice Peter Kelly noted.

If the mother’s application is granted, it will lead to the daughter’s death and this is a “very sad” and “very serious” case raising important legal, medical and ethical issues. A hearing date for the application will be fixed later.

The daughter has been in a vegetative state since she suffered a cardiac arrest or arrests when aged 18 arising, it is believed, from an overdose of an illicit substance.


She is in a specialist unit and was made a ward of court last month when Patricia Hickey, the general solicitor for wards of court, was appointed as the committee representing her interests.

The HSE initiated the wardship proceedings because the woman was about to undergo surgery to relieve pressure on her brain, she lacked capacity to consent and an issue arose whether a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) notice should apply if there was any adverse problem with the surgery.

The woman’s mother and stepfather favoured a DNR notice but also believed it was not in her best interests for her current treatment to continue.

The mother was unable to attend court for the wardship matter but had indicated she wished to apply for orders ceasing her daughter’s current treatment regime.

When the case returned before Mr Justice Kelly on Monday, he was told by Andrew Fitzpatrick SC, for the mother, she visits her daughter daily and intends to proceed with the application.

Gerard Durcan SC, for Ms Hickey, said she will participate in that hearing with “no agenda of any kind” and will make submissions in line with a best interests approach.

Ms Hickey’s stance, insofar as she will have one, will probably be informed by independent views on medical matters and will ensure the relevant law is put before the court, Mr Durcan said.

Mr Justice Kelly said the background to the case was “very sad” and the mother had reached a stage where she believed the peg tube feeding of her daughter had prolonged, not reduced, her pain and suffering.

The mother believes there is no dignity in her daughter’s current position and, while appreciating the efforts of the HSE and carers, she does not believe continuing the current treatment regime is in her daughter’s best interests.

The mother wants the court to make orders which would bring about removal of feeding and hydration “with the inevitable consequence that would have for any human being”.

Noting the mother has said she lacked the financial means to fund the application, the judge said he was glad that the HSE had said it will meet costs of her lawyers and medical reports under an agreement.

The HSE is entitled to adduce its own medical evidence, he added.

Noting the judge retires this week as president of the High Court, Mr Durcan said, on his own behalf and on behalf of Natalie McDonnell BL and Ms Hickey, it had been a “pleasure” to appear before the judge in wardship and other matters.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times