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The persistent vegetative state, treatment withdrawal, and the Hillsborough disaster: Airedale NHS Trust v Bland
  1. Jim Howe
  1. Visiting Neurologist, Monash Medical Centre, Victoria 3168, Australia; jim.howe@doctors.org.uk

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    Liverpool fans desperately trying to escape the crush in the terraces.

    “Dr Venables from Sheffield on the phone for you, he says you are old friends”. My secretary Jane transferred the call to me, and so it began. Graham asked if I could take a young man from Keighley, who had been injured at the Hillsborough football stadium in Sheffield on 15 April 1989. The Football Association Cup semi-final that afternoon, between Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest, had been abandoned soon after kick off, when hundreds of Liverpool fans were crushed in fenced pens at one end of the ground. The disaster had been seen unfolding live on TV. Airedale General is Keighley’s hospital, and at that time I was responsible for the physical rehabilitation service. The young man’s name was Anthony Bland, he was 18 years old, and he had suffered severe anoxic brain damage when his chest was crushed. Graham said that after a few days ventilation he had been able to breathe unaided, and once extubated, appeared to be in a vegetative state.

    Tony Bland was transferred to us in May. He was unresponsive, with open eyes and all the features of the vegetative state.1 His parents, older sister, and other family members came to hear what was planned. After outlining what we would do to try to prevent complications and encourage recovery, I explained that because he had suffered severe brain damage it did not look hopeful, but we would do our best. Graham had already begun breaking the bad news. The police liaison officer assigned to the family came to see me, and asked to be kept informed of Tony’s progress. Soon afterwards, the local and national press heard that a “Hillsborough victim” was at Airedale and asked for information.

    Despite the rehabilitation team’s best …

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