Doctors advised unplugging Mandela life support

Agence France-Presse
Court documents dated June 26 showed Mandela was in a 'vegetative state' and doctors advised unplugging life support

‘VEGETATIVE STATE.’ Court documents dated June 26 said Nelson Mandela was in a “permanent vegetative state.” File AFP photo/Rodger Bosch

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa –  Doctors treating Nelson Mandela said he was in a “permanent vegetative state” and advised his family to turn off his life support machine, according to court documents dated June 26.

AFP obtained the documents on Thursday, July 4.

“He is in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life support machine,” said a legal filing related to a family dispute over reburying the remains of three of Mandela’s children.

“The Mandela family has been advised by the medical practitioners that his life support machine should be switched off.”

“Rather than prolonging his suffering, the Mandela family is exploring this option as a very real probability.”

The “Certificate of Urgency” document was obtained from a lawyer representing Mandela family members who had successfully sought a court order to return the disputed children’s remains to the revered South African leader’s childhood home, after a grandson had them moved to his own village.

The document was presented to South Africa’s Eastern Cape High Court as President Jacob Zuma reported that Mandela’s health had faltered and cancelled a trip to Mozambique.

The next day Zuma reported that Mandela’s condition had “improved during the course of the night”.

“He is much better today than he was when I saw him last night. The medical team continues to do a sterling job,” Zuma said in a statement dated June 27.

Since then the government has said Mandela’s condition remains “critical but stable”, but has provided few details, citing patient confidentiality.

Lawyers for Mandela’s relatives, family members themselves and government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Here are facts on life support:

What does it do?

– A ventilator can assist an ailing patient with breathing — absorbing oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide — or take over the function altogether, depending on the state of the lungs.

How does it work?

– Non-invasive ventilation works with a mask that covers the nose or the nose and mouth and supplies oxygen. It is most often used with conscious patients.

– In more serious cases of breathing difficulty, a tube is inserted into the windpipe via the mouth or nose and connected to a ventilator. Intubation blocks the vocal cords and prevents the patient speaking.

– The breathing tube can also be inserted through a hole cut directly into the windpipe through the neck. This allows ventilation over a longer period, and permits the patient to speak.

Ventilators are often used to aid breathing after surgery or a stroke, for patients with lung muscle weakness or who are not strong enough to breathe on their own, and those whose lungs have been damaged by infection or trauma.

Mandela contracted tuberculosis while imprisoned for 27 years under the apartheid regime, which weakened his lungs. He has had several chest infections in older age.

Life support?

– The term is used for any mechanic assistance for a failing organ, whether it be a heart or lung bypass, kidney dialysis, or a feeding tube, required to keep a person alive.

– A person taken off life support, in line with their own final wishes or those of their family, will generally be given a sedative to ease their suffering.

Court papers filed Wednesday in a spat over the Mandela family burial site, revealed that the Nobel peace laureate’s condition was “perilous”.

Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, said Thursday that he was sometimes uncomfortable but seldom in pain. – 


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