Please tell doctors to let my husband die, mother begs judge
But medics say coma victim’s condition could improve
THE wife of a policeman who was left in a coma after a motorcycle crash wants doctors to stop providing life-supporting treatment, a court heard yesterday.
Lawyers for Lindsey Briggs said her husband Paul, who relies on nutrition and fluids provided through tubes, would not want to stay alive.
But doctors said that Mr Briggs is ‘minimally conscious’ and should continue to be treated in the hope that his condition will improve.
The case of the 43-year-old former soldier, heard by a judge in the Court of Protection, is highly unusual in that typically such legal arguments involve doctors trying to persuade the families of terribly ill or injured people that the prospects of their loved ones are hopeless.
Mr Justice Charles ordered that the usual secrecy of the Court of Protection should be lifted because Mr Briggs’s accident has been widely reported. His wife has given interviews about her wish for him to be allowed to die. Judges at the court consider issues concerning people lacking mental capacity to take decisions.
Mr Briggs, a Royal Artillery veteran who served in Northern Ireland and in the first Gulf War and later became a police constable on Merseyside, was injured in a motorcycle crash on his way to work last year.
He suffered catastrophic brain injuries that have left him on life support for almost 16 months.
In July, Chelsea Rowe, 26, was jailed for 12 months for causing serious injury by dangerous driving. A judge found she mis-
‘The man I fell in love with has gone’
takenly believed she was on a one-way road when she hit Mr Briggs on a flyover in Birkenhead.
Mr Briggs and his 39-year-old wife have been married for 16 years and have a fiveyear-old daughter, Ella.
Victoria Butler-Cole, a barrister representing Mrs Briggs, told the court: ‘Doctors treating Mr Briggs and an independent doctor have diagnosed him as being in a minimally conscious state. A different independent doctor has diagnosed Mr Briggs as being in a permanent vegetative state.
‘Mrs Briggs is certain that Mr Briggs would not wish to continue to receive lifesustaining treatment.
‘The treating doctors are of the view that it is in his best interests to receive a further period of rehabilitation and ongoing assessment to see whether any improvement in his condition might take place.’
Mr Briggs, who is being treated in the Walton Centre in Liverpool, had not made a living will – also known as an advance directive – specifying that he would not wish to continue with life-sustaining treatment if he became incapacitated, the hearing in London was told.
Mrs Briggs’s barrister said she had been distressed to learn that without the document she could not order her husband’s treatment – including the nutrition and hydration tubes – to be withdrawn.
Her solicitor, Mathieu Culverhouse, said after the hearing: ‘The time since Paul’s accident has been extremely difficult for Lindsey and Paul’s family and Lindsey just wants what is best for him.
‘She firmly believes that the withdrawal of treatment is in Paul’s best interests given his previously expressed wishes, his injuries and his current condition and prognosis. We will continue to support Lindsey through the legal process as she continues to fight for Paul’s wishes and feelings to be respected and for treatment to be withdrawn, which the court is set to decide on in late November.’
Doctors at the Walton Centre believe that Mr Briggs’s condition may improve.
Conrad Hallin, barrister for the NHS Trust that runs the centre, told the court: ‘The Trust’s position is that Mr Briggs now requires transfer to a specialist rehabilitation placement.
‘The Trust also considers that Mr Briggs would benefit from a more socially stimulating environment.’
In an interview earlier this year, Mrs Briggs, who met her husband in 1995 when he was working as a fireman, said: ‘As a war veteran, he survived six years serving on the front line in the Gulf War and Northern Ireland before going into the police force for another 11. The man I fell in love with has gone, although his body remains here, laid up in a hospital bed.
‘He is unrecognisable and would never have wanted to be kept alive this way.’
Mrs Briggs urged other couples to write advance directives, saying: ‘It never crossed our minds to put in writing that we’d want to do in a “worst-case scenario” should we ever end up in a similar state.’ In a statement to Liverpool Crown Court during Rowe’s trial, Mrs Briggs said: ‘While Paul remains in a horrific state, it is beyond devastating and affects every aspect of all our lives for the worse.
‘It is much worse than if he had died at the scene; being unable to grieve as he is still alive, yet with each day becoming less optimistic of his recovery.’
Advance directives were given legal force by Labour’s 2005 Mental Capacity Act.
However, senior judges have recently ruled that, despite the Act, advance directives should not be obeyed by doctors and that all cases in which withdrawal of treatment will result in death should be decided by a court.
Last month in a key speech, High Court judge Mr Justice Baker said that there is uncertainty about whether someone in a coma can recover.
‘Medical science and the law are still evolving,’ he said. ‘Until such time as we have greater clarity and understanding about the disorders of consciousness, and about the legal and ethical principles to be applied, there remains a need for independent oversight.’
Married for 16 years: Lindsey and Paul Briggs with their daughter Ella, now aged five Left in a coma: Mr Briggs was injured in a motorcycle crash