Argentina's Supreme Court upheld “the right of every patient to choose a dignified death,” drawing a sharp distinction between halting treatment and euthanasia. Justices confirmed a lower court’s decision to allow the end of extraordinary measures to preserve the life of a person, who had remained in a persistent vegetative state since 1995.
The decision breaks new ground, since patients in previous situations, in which the judiciary authorized the termination of medical treatment, had to have set down in writing their wishes not to be kept alive artificially.
Under the 2012 Patients’ Rights Law, Argentine physicians and hospitals are bound to respect written instructions to that effect.
The patient “lacks consciousness of the surrounding environment, the capacity for communication, understanding or expression through any language, and does not present any evidence of residual cognitive capacity,” the Argentine Supreme Court said in its 34-page ruling.
Justices Ricardo Lorenzetti, Elena Highton de Nolasco and Juan Carlos Maqueda pointed to affidavits from the siblings of M.A.D. that he told them he did not want to be kept alive if he should fall into an irreversible coma.
Argentina's top tribunal concluded that the Patients’ Rights Law allows doctors and hospitals to accept such statements from family members when the patient cannot speak for himself.
“The request to end life support does not signify an euthanasia practice banned by law, but instead constitutes a therapeutic abstention that is permitted,” the country’s highest tribunal declared.
Justice Carlos Fayt did not sign the resolution, though he took part in the discussion and did not agree with the rest of his colleagues. Court sources explained to the Herald that the magistrate — reportedly at odds with the measure — did not want to issue a minority vote.
Last year, Fayt requested that other tests on M.A.D be conducted, which delayed the ruling.
Justices took into account the “Lambert and Others v France,” a landmark decision to end the life of Vincent Lambert, who has been in vegetative state for six years. The ruling was issued last month by the European Court of Human Rights.
Twenty years ago, M.A.D. — a young man from Neuquén province — was riding his motorbike to a small ranch to have a meal with his family. On his way, a car hit him. The impact was so strong that it caused him multiple severe injuries. But his situation worsened after a hospital infection that brought him to his current vegetative state.
“Ever since the accident took place, M.A.D. has not been aware of himself or his surroundings,” the justices wrote. A high source from the Supreme Court pointed out that this was a case “that involves a minimum degree of conscience. He’s clinically brain dead.”