The case concerns R.S., a middle-aged man whose data cannot be published due to concerns for the safety of his family. On November 6, 2020, he suffered cardiac arrest for at least 45 minutes and, according to the hospital, suffered serious and permanent brain damage.
Due to this, the hospital in Plymouth, England, requested court permission to cut off the man’s life support. The man’s wife and children, who live in the UK, agreed to this. However, his mother and sister in Poland have opposed this, as well as his other sister and niece, who also reside in the UK.
On Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected the last appeal submitted by part of the man’s family, and yesterday, the hospital once again decided to cut the man’s life support.
“Strasbourg rejected our motion permanently. We received information that it does not see any human rights impediment here. We are asking the Polish Government to appeal to the ECHR because then the decision would be made by all of the judges, whereas our motion is being rejected by only one,” the man’s sister stated on right-wing Polish TV Republika.
R.S.’s life support has been cut off three times before. First, for two, then five and finally three days. After each time, it was reattached due to appeals filed by certain family members, claiming new evidence about the man’s status improving.
These family members claim that R.S.’s condition visibly improved after the initial court decree to cut his life support. They pointed out that after disconnecting him from respirators, he was breathing independently. Later, the issue surrounded whether or not to disconnect only the tubes supplying the man with food and water.
The family also showed video evidence in which the man is blinking his eyes while his family is present in the hospital room. They also presented the opinion of a neurologist who expressed a differing opinion to the hospital’s concerning the man’s chances of returning to an independent life.
Moreover, the family proposed to transport R.S. to Poland, where he would be able to remain on life support, but his wife rejected the idea.
Earlier, the man’s mother stated that during the family’s visit, R.S. was crying, moving his head, and reacting to voices; therefore, it cannot be declared that he is in a coma or vegetative state but that he is in a state of minimal consciousness. The mother further believed that the hospital has not conducted all the necessary examinations in light of the improvement in the man’s condition.
The Guardianship Court rejected this evidence in December 2020. It noted that a phone video recording does not have the same importance as a medical examination and that according to doctors, blinking is a natural response of someone in the man’s state and not necessarily a reaction to a family member.
The court also stated that the neurologist in question is a Catholic priest and activist in a pro-life organization, and therefore, his opinion is not impartial. The neurologist also did not have access to medical documentation.
Concerning the possibility of transporting R.S. to Poland, the court also rejected the idea as that would strongly risk the man’s life during transport, which would compromise his human dignity more than cutting off his life support.