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Hospital can take 12-year-old boy off life support over parents' objections, court rules

Hospital
The Royal London Hospital |

A court in the United Kingdom has permitted a hospital to discontinue life support for a 12-year-old boy, despite his parents' passionate personal and religious objections.

Justice Emma Arbuthnot issued a judgment on Monday allowing medical professionals at Royal London Hospital to end life support for Archie Battersbee, who suffered a severe brain injury in April.

Arbuthnot noted that she visited Battersbee in the hospital and considered him a "lovely looking young boy." But it was her opinion that Battersbee was already effectively brain dead.

"The evidence in my judgment shows a gradual deterioration from very early on in Archie's admission into hospital when he had already suffered a very severe brain injury when blood supply and oxygen were prevented from reaching his brain," wrote Arbuthnot.

"It is clear from the anxious and careful scrutiny of all the evidence including from clinicians with different specialisms from five separate hospitals that tragically on the balance of probabilities, Archie is dead."

Arbuthnot gave "permission to the medical professionals at the Royal London Hospital (1) to cease to ventilate mechanically Archie Battersbee; (2) to extubate Archie Battersbee; (3) to cease the administration of medication to Archie Battersbee and (4) not to attempt any cardio or pulmonary resuscitation on Archie Battersbee when cardiac output ceases or respiratory effort ceases."

"It is not in dispute that Archie lacks capacity to consent to or refuse medical treatment. In the circumstances where the parents do not agree with the Trust, it falls to the Court to decide what is in Archie's best interests," she added.

"I find that the burdens of the treatment and his condition along with the total lack of a prospect of recovery outweigh Archie's Christian beliefs and the benefits to him of a continuing life on mechanical ventilation for a few more weeks or months with all the other procedures that that entails."

Battersbee's mother, Hollie Dance, who is represented in court by the Christian Legal Centre, intends to appeal the decision. 

"We intend to appeal and will not give up on Archie," Dance said in a statement shared by the CLC. "Until it's God's way I won't accept he should go. I know of miracles when people have come back from being brain dead."

"I do not believe Archie has been given enough time. From the beginning, I have always thought, 'why the rush?'" the mother asked. "His heart is still beating, he has gripped my hand, and as his mother, I know he is still in there."  

CLC Chief Executive Andrea Williams said the ruling is a "devastating moment" for the family. She stressed that the case has "raised significant moral, legal and medical questions as to when a person is dead."

"The idea that death can be declared on the balance of probability is frankly ludicrous," Williams complained. "Life is the most precious gift that we have. This ruling sets a troubling and dark precedent."

A GoFundMe page established to support the family has raised the equivalent of about $26,000.

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