Poland applies to UK authorities for repatriation of vegetative patient

Paweł Supernak/PAP

A Polish deputy justice minister said on Saturday he had requested from Britain's Lord Chancellor the return to Poland of a Polish citizen in a vegetative state after a Warsaw court gave the procedure a green light on Friday.

The Warsaw prosecutor's press office announced on Friday evening that on January 22, the prosecutor had filed a motion to have the man, identified only as R.S., declared entirely incapacitated. The prosecutor's office said it was acting to ensure the man a real chance of protecting his human and civil rights, "in particular the right to life and health."

The prosecutor's office's press release continued: "The District Court in Warsaw, at the request of the prosecutor, adjudicated that the proceedings were secured by consenting to the man's transport to the territory of Poland."

On Saturday, Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol said he had contacted Britain's Lord Chancellor (justice minister) with a request to have the man transported to the Budzik Clinic in Olsztyn, north-eastern Poland. He said he had also requested from the British health secretary that the man's life support apparatus be reconnected.

The case concerns a middle-aged Polish man (R.S.) who is in a vegetative state having been in a coma in a Plymouth, southwest England, hospital since November 6 after suffering a cardiac arrest. The heart attack lasted for 45 minutes and left him with what doctors have described as severe and permanent brain damage.

The man's wife and children supported a successful application by the hospital to a court for permission to turn off his life support system so that he could die while receiving palliative care.

However, the patient's mother and sister in Poland have argued that the man, as a practising Catholic, would oppose the turning off of life support owing to his faith.

In an appeal to an English court they also claimed that the man’s condition had improved, and produced video evidence, recorded on a mobile phone, apparently showing him blinking when they were in the room.

But the court rejected the evidence and their arguments, stating that it was in the man’s best interests to be given palliative care after his life support had been discontinued.

Following the loss of their appeal, his mother and sister have said they would like the Polish government to become involved in the matter, and also took their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg.

But in another twist in the long-running saga the ECHR rejected their plea, leaving doctors free to let the man die. Despite this, and despite his life support being turned off twice before, R.S. is still alive and his case has been subject to numerous appeals.

Deputy Health Minister Waldemar Kraska said on Saturday that Polish authorities stand ready to transport the man to the Budzik Clinic, which has agreed to accept him. Kraska said the logistics were in place for a flight from Plymouth to Szymany airport, from where he would be flown by helicopter to Olsztyn.

He said medical personnel were waiting only for a signal from the UK as to when the transportation could take place. "A person should always be given a chance," Kraska said. "It is not we who decide when a man dies."

Deputy Minister Marcin Warchol said on Saturday the transportation team was on standby and that the process could be commenced within a few hours.

"I hope the civilization of life wins over the civilization of death," Warchol said.

On Friday, Warchol announced that a diplomatic passport in the patient's name had been sent to the Polish consulate in London and if UK authorities recognised it, the man's case would come under Polish jurisdiction, paving the way for him to be repatriated.

In a Friday statement, University Hospitals Plymouth said that in all situations it looks after the best interests of patients and tries to work with families to determine their likely will, also following court decisions in cases of dispute.

The hospital also pointed out that a British court had ruled in December that further treatment was not in R.S.'s best interests and that palliative care should be given. That decision has twice been reviewed and upheld by the appeals court. A UK court has also ruled that transporting the man to Poland would not be in his best interests.