updated 8/14/2009 9:12:36 AM ET 2009-08-14T13:12:36

An Australian judge ruled Friday that a quadriplegic man who says he cannot "undertake any basic human functions" has the right to direct a nursing home to stop feeding him and allow him to die.

The case sheds light on a gray legal area in Australia; patients have a lawful right to refuse lifesaving treatment but helping another to commit suicide is a crime punishable by a life prison sentence.

Chief Justice Wayne Martin told the Western Australia state Supreme Court that the staff and owner of the Perth nursing home caring for 49-year-old Christian Rossiter would not be held criminally liable if any of them withdrew his feeding tube according to his instructions.

Martin said Rossiter, a former stockbroker who broke his spine in 2004 in a road accident and was left a spastic quadriplegic after a fall last year, clearly had a right to direct — and refuse — his treatment.

Food and fluid "should not be administered against his wishes," but medical staff must fully inform Rossiter of the consequences, the judge said.

Man says he could decide to live
Rossiter welcomed the ruling and said he would take further medical advice before refusing food and water.

"I'm happy that I won my right to die," he told reporters at his nursing home.

"I want to end my life, but after I speak to a medical professional," he added. "There's a possibility I could still be dissuaded."

Rossiter appeared at court for Friday's one-day hearing in a reclining wheelchair and with a tracheostomy tube fitted in his throat to allow him to breathe. He was accompanied by a nurse.

He told the judge he was of sound mind and that he wanted to die.

Lawyer Linda Black also read a statement by Rossiter to the court.

"I am unable to undertake any basic human functions," his statement said. "I am unable to blow my nose. I'm unable to wipe the tears from my eyes."

Nursing home worried about breaking law
Rossiter said he was prepared to travel to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is allowed, but that the Swiss government has been known to hold up cases like his with red tape.

None of Rossiter's family attended court on Friday. Sky News said he has one brother who lives overseas.

Brightwater Care Group, which owns the nursing home, asked the court to rule on its legal culpability if it acceded to Rossiter's request.

Brightwater's lawyer, Jeremy Allanson, told the court that the company did not have a particular view on whether Rossiter should be fed, but did not want to break the law by denying him food.

Brightwater's chief executive, Penny Flett, told reporters outside the court that a palliative care doctor would be directed to speak to Rossiter about the consequences of stopping nutrition and fluids.

"The whole organization has been most concerned for Mr. Rossiter but also concerned for our own legal standing and this has clarified things greatly," Flett said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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