Azara Blog: Government wants to force a drug on a woman in a vegetative state

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Date published: 2006/11/20

The BBC says:

A woman in a vegetative state will be given a sleeping pill which may "wake her up" against her family's wishes.

The 53-year-old, who has not been named, will be given zolpidem which early research has shown can bring people out of a vegetative state.

Her family do not want the test to go ahead, preferring to let her die, as she may be left seriously disabled.

But Sir Mark Potter, head of the High Court's family division, ruled against their wishes earlier this month.

The drug proposal was put forward by Laurence Oates, the outgoing Official Solicitor, who suggested that zolpidem be prescribed, the Guardian newspaper reported.

It is normally used to help insomnia but has been cited in a number of cases where it has caused patients in a permanent vegetative state (PVS) to wake up.

An improvement was seen within 20 minutes of taking the drug and wore off after four hours, when the patients restored to their permanent vegetative state.

A spokesman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs said: "It is a very difficult situation.

"The Official Solicitor, who represents the woman, came to a view that was opposite to the family.

"He accepts that there are incredibly sensitive issues that need to be addressed with this family and the woman itself.

"But he also takes the view that there are other issues for other patients in this situation.

"He believes that no stone should be left unturned in trying to save life."

It is not known when the drug will be given to the woman, although the judgement only allows doctors to give a three-day course of the drug and they have been told they must stop if the woman starts to suffer.

Dreadful interference by the State. The idea that "no stone should be left unturned in trying to save life" is manifestly nonsense. If this drug cost a billion pounds to administer you can bet the government would not be so keen to try it. And if the drug is likely to provide no real lasting benefit (as seems the case) and could cause detriment then this experiment should not be undertaken, especially against the wishes of the family. Given the problems facing the planet, trying to resuscitate people with PVS should not be given any kind of priority. At some point you should just let people die with dignity.

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