Doctors treating Nelson Mandela have said the anti-apartheid icon was in a "permanent vegetative state" and advised his family to turn off his life support machine a week ago, according to court documents obtained by the AFP news agency.
"He is in a permanent vegetative state and is assisted in breathing by a life support machine," said the court filing dated June 26.
"Rather than prolonging his suffering, the Mandela family is exploring this option as a very real probability," read a filing from the family's lawyer, relating to a dispute over the final resting place of South Africa's first democractically elected black president.
Since the document was written, the government, family members and people visiting Mandela have reported his condition has improved.
"He is clearly a very ill man, but he was conscious and he tried to move his mouth and eyes when I talked to him," Denis Goldberg, one of the men who was convicted with Mandela, told AFP after visiting him on Monday.
"He is definitely not unconscious," he said adding that "he was aware of who I was."
Goldberg said he was asked by Mandela's wife Graca Machel to pay him a visit "just to give him mental stimulation".
President Jacob Zuma's spokesman Mac Maharaj refused to comment on the documents.
"We don't have a comment on that," Maharaj told AFP, citing doctor-patient confidentiality.
"We have indicated from our point of view that based on the doctors' report the condition of the former president is critical but stable at this stage."
Mandela's wife earlier on Thursday said that while occasionally the former president has been uncomfortable during his nearly one month hospital stay, he has seldom been in pain.
"Now we are about 25 days we have been in hospital," Machel said, giving thanks for the outpouring of well wishes from around the world for the Nobel peace laureate.
"Although Madiba sometimes may be uncomfortable, very few times he is in pain," she said.
The former president, who turns 95 later this month, was rushed to hospital on June 8 with a recurring lung infection.