Boy should be taken off life-support, rules judge

Royal Courts of Justice

A boy with irreversible brain damage should be taken off a life-support machine despite the objections of his parents, a High Court judge has ruled.

Ms Justice Russell said she had reached her decision after a Family Division hearing to assess what was in the boy's best interests with "great reluctance".

The one-year-old, who was born prematurely, now requires ventilation.

His mother said she believed he might recover and doctors did not have to right to end his life.

"He is still alive," she told the judge. "Miracles do happen."

The boy's father told the court: "We know he is reacting to certain things. He still has life. We don't have the right, as parents, as individuals, to take this privilege from him."

The case followed an application by the NHS foundation trust which runs the hospital where the boy is being cared for.

Neither the boy, nor his parents or the hospital can be identified and the judge said the restriction on naming the trust would remain as long as the boy was alive.

Ms Justice Russell described the case as "unbearably sad" and said she had nothing but sympathy for the boy's parents.

"As committed and devout Christians they don't feel they have the right to agree to life-sustaining treatment being withdrawn, she added.

"The parents believe in the possibility of recovery. That is not the opinion of the medical experts."

'Entirely transparent'

The court heard the boy was born prematurely by emergency Caesarean section in "poor condition".

He suffered an "acute cardio-respiratory deterioration" which required him to be "mechanically ventilated once again" in late 2013.

Specialists told the court the boy had suffered "profound irreversible brain damage" and "chronic lung disease" and it was in his best interests for the "life-sustaining intensive care" to be withdrawn.

Claire Watson, a lawyer representing the trust, told the judge the mother "remains firmly of the view that [her son] is able to sense her presence and the presence of father and gains pleasure from certain activities - in particular having his face washed."

"Her deep religious feelings and beliefs lead her to believe... there may be a miracle."

But she added: "Unfortunately, looking at the medical evidence, the miracle the parents hope and pray for is unlikely to happen."

Ms Watson indicated that something had "gone wrong" in the treatment and although she did not go into details said the "trust have endeavoured to be entirely transparent".

The judge said there had been "multiple failures in the multi-disciplinary team caring for him".

She accepted the trust had not "tried to cover anything up" but said what happened had "affected the way his parents feel about his treatment, as it would".

Yogi Amin from law firm Irwin Mitchell, which acted for the parents, said: "The courts are charged to make these very difficult decisions where there is a dispute between the parents and clinicians over serious medical issues.

"The family are desperately upset and devastated and will now want to come to terms with the court's decision and grieve for their son."

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