Sadness as Catholic disabled man passes away after having food and fluids withdrawn against family's will

RS was under the care of the University Hospitals Plymouth Trust which deemed it in his best interests to be allowed to die.

A Catholic disabled man at the centre of a legal challenge to save his life has passed away after being deprived of nutrition and hydration.

Life-sustaining treatment for the man, named only as RS in court documents, was ended on 7 January by doctors at the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust. He died on Tuesday.

RS, who was middle aged, was left brain damaged after suffering a heart attack in November. 

He was originally from Poland, where the government had been seeking to enforce a judgment from its own courts to have him airlifted to a Polish hospital for further treatment and care. 

Doctors argued that ending life-sustaining treatment was in his best interests, a decision backed by UK judges and also supported by his wife, who said that he would not want to be a burden. 

His mother, siblings and cousins, who were being assisted by the Christian Legal Centre, all disagreed with the decision and wanted him to be airlifted to Poland for further treatment. 

Neurological consultant, Rev Dr Patrick Pullicino, told the court that videos taken by the family of RS in hospital suggested in his view that RS had a 50 per cent chance of eventually recovering to live an independent life within his own home. However, his written opinion was rejected as evidence by the UK courts. 

The courts also rejected the suggestion of him being repatriated to Poland. 

News of his death has been greeted by "sadness" from the Catholic Church.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops' Conference in England and Wales called the case "tragic" and said it had touched the hearts of many in the Catholic community.

"We are deeply saddened by the news of the death of Mr RS and offer sincere condolences to all of his family both here and in Poland," the spokesperson said. 

"We pray that what happened here will not be repeated in the future, and hope that all those requiring Clinically Assisted Nutrition and Hydration (CANH) will be treated with proper human dignity."

The spokesperson added: "The Catholic Church continues to oppose the definition of assisted nutrition and hydration as medical treatment which has now become the basis of medical and legal decisions to withdraw assisted nutrition and hydration from patients.

"Providing food and water to very sick patients, even by assisted means, is a basic level of care.

"This care must be given whenever possible unless it is medically indicated as being overly burdensome or failing to attain its purpose." 

The Catholic Bishop of Plymouth, Mark O'Toole, who has been offering pastoral support to the family, said he was "deeply saddened" by RS's death. 

"My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, children, mother, sisters, and niece and with all those who loved and cared for him," he said. 

"Local clergy will continue to offer pastoral support to the family living in Plymouth, as they have done throughout his time in hospital."