Liverpool-based law firm Edwards Abrams Doherty (EAD) acted pro bono for the parents of Eileen Doran, a sufferer of an incurable brain disease who passed away last month, in their widely publicised High Court battle to preserve their daughter’s life.
Helen Barry, a partner at EAD, represented Eileen’s parents, Peter and Margaret Doran, after the Legal Service Commission withdrew legal aid within days of the final High Court ruling.
The Doran family had been contesting an earlier ruling allowing 31-year-old Eileen, a sufferer of mitochondrial cytopathy, a condition that causes constant fits and over time leads to brain damage, to die.
“It was a difficult case anyway because it was so heartbreaking,” says Barry. “Eileen’s brother had died of the same condition in the same unit two years earlier.”
Mr Justice Coleridge ruled that Eileen should be allowed to die “peacefully and with dignity”. The case had been referred to the High Court in London after the family challenged an earlier decision allowing doctors not to resuscitate her should she stop breathing.
“Are there any advantages to this patient in this condition in attempting, by the use of artificial and very invasive procedures, to prolong her survival beyond that which will naturally occur?” Mr Justice Coleridge asked.
Barry explains: “The family’s evidence was that she would respond to commands in a non-verbal way. But the doctors explained that, saying it was all part of her condition and she was having automatic responses which were part of the seizure process.”
The Doran family was originally supported by legal aid, but public funding was limited to a medical report.
Barry says: “That medical report was negative because our experts agreed with the treating doctors and the official solicitor’s doctor. They gave us funding to have a second opinion, but it was also negative.”
Legal aid was withdrawn within days of the final hearing at the High Court.
“Everybody accepted on the face of the medical evidence that this was a case that the family was probably not going to win,” Barry says. “But that wasn’t the point. The point for the family was that it was a matter of life and death.
“The hearing was going to go ahead anyway and it would have been impossible for them to have attended unrepresented. We felt we couldn’t drop them at the final hour and leave them at the High Court on their own.”