Brain-damaged baby can be removed from ventilator, court rules

A baby who suffered irreversible brain damage can be removed from the ventilator keeping him alive, a court in Northern Ireland has ruled.

The five-month-old boy's parents opposed switching off the machine.

A High Court judge said medical staff should not resuscitate him if the need arises.

Mr Justice O'Hara said the child has no quality of life and will only suffer a deteriorating physical condition.

"In short, he has no meaningful life and no dignity, nor will he have in the future," he said.

No improvement

The child, referred to as M, was involved in an incident last month that caused his heart to stop.

Despite doctors managing to get it pumping again his brain was starved of oxygen, inflicting overwhelming brain damage.

The court heard that, in all likelihood, the child has been left blind, deaf, and severely mentally and physically disabled.

He is not thought to be in pain because of the extent of brain damage.

M is currently being kept alive by a ventilator because it is believed he could not breathe unaided for more than a short period of time.

Successive scans have shown no improvement, the court heard.

Doctors treating the baby believe he can never recover to any form of living that does not involve continual ventilation. He would not be able to interact with anyone and would have no recognisable quality of life.

As part of their battle against having the ventilator switched off M's parents sent video clips of him in intensive care to a Professor Z, who claims to specialise in the rehabilitation of patients in another country.

The judge heard evidence from Professor Z that M could make a recovery if he was treated with, amongst other things, a technique of neurostimulation designed and demonstrated by him.

But doctors treating the baby claimed this was little more than massaging his face, head and limbs.

Withhold

The judge rejected Professor Z's contention that his technique would in any way start to reverse the brain damage.

He considered his evidence had merely given a distressed, grieving family false hope where there was none.

With M unable to make the decision for himself, Mr Justice O'Hara said it was up to the court to decide whether it is in his best interests to prolong his life by continuing the present medical treatment.

He also said that doctors were not seeking to take a positive step to end the M's life such as through the injection of a drug.

Instead it was an application to withhold treatment that is prolonging the child's life artificially.

The judge said the parents had powerfully and movingly expressed their wishes to him.

The distress and desperation of M's father is almost unimaginable, he said.

But, in a verdict published on Tuesday, he said: "The extent of the damage to M is such that he has and will have no quality life, he will always be dependent, his physical condition will deteriorate and he will be prone to complications which will require further treatments.

"The prolongation of his life by ventilation can achieve nothing other than prolongation of life for its own sake.

"In circumstances of this case I do not believe that is enough."

Granting the application, the judge further ordered that M should receive the best possible palliative care.

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