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Australian court allows quadriplegic right to die

world Updated: Aug 14, 2009 11:38 IST

AFP
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An Australian court on Friday ruled that a quadriplegic man who has begged to be allowed to die has the right to order his carers to stop feeding him.

In a landmark decision, Western Australia's chief judge Wayne Martin said the Brightwater Care Group would not be criminally responsible if it stopped feeding and hydrating severely paralysed Christian Rossiter, 49.

Martin said Rossiter had the right to direct his own treatment, and that food and water "should not be administered against his wishes".

The ruling sets a legal precedent in Australia, where assisting someone to take their own life is a crime punishable by life in prison in some states.

The judge found Rossiter was not terminally ill or dying and had the mental capacity to make an informed decision about stopping his treatment.

Martin ordered that medical staff fully explain to Rossiter the consequences of ceasing nutrition and hydration through a tube into his stomach.

In a statement read to the court on Friday, the former stockbroker and outdoor adventurer said he was unable to undertake the most basic of human functions.

"I am unable to blow my nose," he said. "I am unable to wipe the tears from my eyes."

He made a public plea last week to be allowed to end his suffering, which he described as a "living hell".

"I'm Christian Rossiter and I'd like to die. I am a prisoner in my own body. I can't move," he told reporters.

"I have no fear of death -- just pain. I only fear pain."

Rossiter developed spastic quadriplegia after separate accidents in which he fell 30 metres (100 feet) from a building and was then hit by a car whilst riding his bicycle.

"I believe (quadriplegics) should be allowed to exercise their freedom of choice but my choice is to die," he said.

"I can't wipe my own bottom. I'm fed suppositories every three days to induce me to open my bowels and it's a very painful process that can take six to eight hours," he added.

Brightwater, the group that runs the nursing home where Rossiter lives, sought a court ruling on whether ceasing to feed him would place it in breach of its duty of care, and said it held no position on his wish to die.