HSE admits partial liability over brain-dead pregnant woman kept on life support

The HSE is disputing claims for damages for nervous shock arising from the woman’s death and the continuation of life support

The HSE is disputing claims for damages for nervous shock arising from the woman’s death and the continuation of life support

 

The HSE is understood to have admitted liability concerning key elements of a damages claim by the family of a brain-dead pregnant woman who was kept on life support for almost four weeks due to concerns about the Eighth Amendment.

The 26-year-old woman’s family allege a failure to diagnose a brain cyst which ruptured, leaving her brain-dead and in “limbo” for weeks due to uncertainty about the legal position of her unborn child of 15 weeks.

The HSE is opposing claims for damages for nervous shock over the death of the woman, known as “Ms P”, and her continuation on life support until the family got court orders permitting the life support to be turned off.

Read the exclusive interview with Ms P's father here.

After a hearing during Christmas week 2014, a three-judge High Court ruled the life support could be ended as the only prospect for the unborn was “distress and death”.

Maintaining support would deprive the woman of dignity in death and subject her family to “unimaginable distress in a futile exercise”, it also said.

The woman, described as having a rotting brain and an open infected head wound, was buried afterwards in a closed coffin.

Her widowed father and other family members, including her two young children, represented by solicitor Gillian O’Connor, of Michael Boylan Litigation, have sued the HSE for damages in actions due before the High Court in the next few months. Her father claims failures in care at a regional hospital led to his daughter’s death and, as a result, the family suffered severe personal injuries, loss, mental distress and other damage.

Damages

It is understood the HSE has admitted liability concerning a fatality dependency claim advanced by the father on behalf of her dependants. Damages will be assessed at a hearing in January.

The HSE is disputing claims for damages for nervous shock arising from the woman’s death and the continuation of life support until December 27th.

A HSE spokeswoman said the case is being handled by the State Claims Agency. “As the matter is before the court, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time,” she said.

The delay arose from doctors’ concerns that taking her off life support could breach the constitutional right to life of the unborn in the Eighth Amendment, which was repealed last year.

Her family say they were traumatised and distressed by her death and the continuation of the somatic treatment against their wishes. They were left “in limbo” and had to go to court seeking to have the treatment ended.

Her father and other family members have since initiated personal injury actions against the HSE arising from her care at a regional hospital following her admission there on November 27th, 2014.

They allege failure to properly address her complaints of severe headaches and claim that had a brain scan been carried out earlier, it would have diagnosed a cyst or brain tumour in time for it to be drained off and, on balance, have led to her making a full recovery.

Objected

Ms P was at 15 weeks’ gestation when she was declared clinically brain-dead on December 3rd, 2014 at a Dublin hospital as a result of a ruptured cerebral cyst suffered at the regional hospital on November 29th.

Her father and extended family objected to somatic treatment being continued and sought court orders to have it ended.

Of seven doctors who testified at the High Court, none argued there was any realistic prospect of her baby surviving even if the treatment continued.

The court heard Ms P’s condition was deteriorating, she was very swollen, her brain was rotting and she had several infections. One doctor said continuing the somatic support amounted to “experimental medicine” and another said that it would mean moving “from the extraordinary to the grotesque”.

A neurosurgeon at the Dublin hospital to which Ms P was transferred on November 29th said no written legal advice to address uncertainty about the legal position concerning the unborn had been received by the time she was moved back to the regional hospital some days later.

Mary Carolan

The Irish Times Sept 2019