Life-saving treatment ‘can be withdrawn’

family life

Doctors may lawfully withhold treatment of a baby born with a serious heart disorder, a Judge has ruled.

The baby girl, now eight months old, was born with a malformed heart in which only one chamber pumped blood. Another serious condition caused the flow of blood into her lungs to be restricted. At the High Court Ms Justice Russell explained:

“The [latter] condition carries a very high risk of mortality and for this reason it was recommended that there should be termination of the pregnancy …. The parents chose to proceed with the pregnancy.”

The baby underwent major surgery just days after her birth in June last year but doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London succeeded only in delaying the inevitable. By this year they had reached the conclusion that ‘MK’ had only a short time left and so applied for a declaration that it would be legal to withhold a variety of “invasive or aggressive treatment in the form of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, inotropes [muscle treatment], intubation [insertion of medical tubes] and mechanical ventilation.” They argued that these would have little real effect and that it was in the baby’s best interests to be left to die naturally. She would have palliative care, however, to ensure she was not distressed or in pain.

The parents objected, arguing that their baby “ should be given any procedure available if that would prolong her life for one day.” They insisted that MK was capable of enjoying her life, even if only to a limited extent.

Ms Justice Russell accepted the doctors’ case. Referring to the parents, she explained that:

“Their position is wholly understandable, as is the fact that they believe to make such a declaration now is premature and that any decisions should be made in consultation with them when MK’s condition deteriorates and should be dependent on the extent of the deterioration of her condition. Equally understandable is their desire to latch onto specific symptoms and treatments in isolation in which they find some hope, but the fact is that MK is a very sick baby and the court must consider her condition as a whole as part of its consideration of the totality of her best interests.”

The Judge stressed the likelihood that invasive procedure might frighten or distress MK.

“The most that they might achieve is to delay her death by a very short time but in doing so she will be made to suffer very considerably when she could, and should, be allowed to end her life in as comfortable, pain-free and comforted [a] condition as it is possible to achieve.”

Read the full ruling here.

Photo by BowBelle51 via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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