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Steve Weatherbe

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Judge orders 14-week-old’s life support removed against parents’ wishes - to preserve his ‘autonomy’

Steve Weatherbe

LONDON, England, July 28, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – A mother wept last week as a judge’s decision was read permitting hospital officials to unplug her severely disabled 14-week-old son from his ventilator and move him to a palliative care unit to die.

But her son died Saturday while still on life support after his feeding tube became blocked a day before the court’s permission to remove it could be implemented. 

The death of the boy, whose name cannot be used, was reported by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, which supported the parents in their legal battle to sustain their son’s life as long as possible.

Paul Tully, the SPUC’s general secretary, condemned the health policies that led to the court order. “For me, this case demonstrates that the NHS [National Health Service] has sold out to the culture of death. How absurd that the health service puts no limit on the amount it spends killing babies before birth, yet goes to court to ask to withhold genuine health care from a very sick little boy after his birth.”

The baby suffered from spinal muscular atrophy, which officials at Northampton General Hospital told the court was both incurable and degenerative. Against the parents’ wishes, medical staff wanted to move him from intensive care and off the ventilator that had kept him alive since he was 18 minutes old.

The parents testified that the boy experienced pleasure, was “amazing” and “a fighter.”

According to reports in the British press, hospital officials argued that death was in the child’s best interests because “the burden of the treatment placed on the baby outweighed the benefits.” The High Court’s Justice Hayden agreed, saying that the child was in pain and his “dignity and autonomy” must be respected. While life must be respected, he said, so is quality of life.

The judge used the same phrasing earlier this year in the case of a man who persistently detached his feeding tube, allowing him to starve. “There is a strong instinct throughout the medical profession, and far more broadly, to preserve life wherever possible,” he ruled. “But that is not a value that stands alone and in splendid isolation. It is to be considered against a whole raft of other important issues — respect for the dignity and autonomy of the individual and respect for their wishes.”

Judge Hayden has agreed in several recent cases to let hospitals disconnect life support systems from patients young and old against the wishes of their families. But he has not always come down on the side of autonomy. Early last year, he made five teenage girls wards of the state in order to prevent them from leaving England to join ISIS forces in Syria.

In February 2015, the same judge ordered a 19-month-old child disconnected from life support against the wishes of his father. Because the judge considered the boy brain dead, he said, “to speak in terms of (the boy’s) best interest therefore is redundant.” Nonetheless, respecting “his dignity, his autonomy, requires me in short to do the right thing,” i.e. pull the plug.

Tully promised his organization would continue to fight against “this flagrant disregard for life” but also appealed for funds to cover the family’s legal costs.

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