A woman in her early 30s who has COVID-19 and remains in an induced coma a month after giving birth to a son should be allowed to die against the wishes of her family, a judge has decided.
Mr Justice Hayden ruled that doctors can lawfully stop providing life-support treatment to the woman, who has an underlying health condition.
He described the case as one of “almost-unspeakable sadness” – after a specialist told him that everything had been tried and the woman’s chances of recovery were “zero”.
The judge considered the case at a urgent virtual hearing at the Court of Protection, where issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to make decisions for themselves are analysed, late on Tuesday.
He said the woman, a Muslim who was married and also had a three-year-old daughter, could not be named.
Bosses at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust had asked the judge to rule that ending life-support treatment would be in the woman’s best interests.
But the woman’s husband and sister said she should be given more time and treatment should continue. They said Muslims believed that only God could end life.
The judge said evidence showed doctors were no longer preserving the woman’s life, but prolonging her death. He concluded that ending treatment would be in her best interests and said she should be allowed to die with dignity.
He added that the woman’s “life and hopes” had been extinguished by “this insidious virus”, and a young family “split apart prematurely”.
“This family is seeking a miracle,” he said, describing the woman’s situation as one of “almost-unspeakable sadness” and as “a tragedy of almost-unimaginable decision”.
Mr Justice Hayden said doctors had prepared a palliative care plan and the woman’s family would be able to see her.
“The objective is not to shorten her life,” he added. “(But) to avoid the prolongation of her death.”
The judge was told that the woman suffered from Addison’s disease – a rare disorder of glands that produce essential hormones.
He heard that she had developed COVID-19 while at home and been rushed to hospital a month ago when 32 weeks’ pregnant.
Doctors had delivered her son by caesarean section shortly after she was admitted. They said that her pancreas had ceased to function and one lung had “died”.
“Her chances of making any meaningful recovery with the COVID are slim,” a specialist overseeing her care said, adding: “The feeling of the whole team is that she has reached the point where it is, in essence, zero.”
The specialist told the judge that CT scans showed “essentially no normal long function”.
The woman’s sister told the judge: “We believe in miracles. When God has written our death, that is when we will die.”
She added: “To unplug the machine, this is for us like asking someone to kill us.”
The judge heard that the woman knew she was carrying a boy and had chosen a name for him.