In a recent High Court case, the judge was presented with the conflicting wishes of a gravely ill boy’s parents and the view of the medical team treating him. The eight year old boy had suffered a heart condition since birth. He had had surgery in June for the removal of a band that had been put around his pulmonary artery. Since that time, his health deteriorated and at the time of the hearing he had been on a life-support machine known as ECMO for more than a month, with no signs of improvement.

In the view of the clinicians, there was no prospect of the boy surviving and so they decided that treatment should be withdrawn. The boy’s parents, who are devout Christians, refused to give their consent on religious grounds. The boy’s mother expressed that she did not believe that it was the place of doctors to shorten the boy’s life and that it would be a “betrayal of trust” for them to do so.

After concluding that there was no hope of the boy recovering, the judge decided that it would be wrong to keep him alive and possibly in pain on a machine. The judge therefore agreed to the hospital’s request to withdraw lifesustaining treatment.  

While this decision does not change the landscape in this area of law, it does serve to confirm that in such situations of conflict, the courts should be consulted before a decision is taken regarding the withdrawal of lifesustaining treatment. The court will then consider all the information put before them to determine what is in a child’s best interests.