Justice O’Hara, sitting in the High Court in Belfast, today ruled that medical
staff responsible for the care of a 5 month old baby, referred to as M, are
permitted to remove him from a ventilator and should not resuscitate him if the
who was born in October 2013, was involved in an incident on 7 March 2014 which
caused his heart to stop. He was taken to hospital where doctors managed to get
his heart started again but his brain had been starved of oxygen.
Judge heard evidence from the doctors caring for M that he has suffered such
overwhelming and irreversible brain damage that in all likelihood he is now
blind, deaf, severely mentally handicapped and severely physically disabled. It
is likely (but not certain) the brain damage is such that he is not in pain. He
is currently being kept alive by a ventilator because it is believed he could
not breathe unaided for more than a short period of time. Successive scans have
shown no improvement. The doctors believe M can never recover to any form of
living which does not involve continual ventilation; he would not be able to
interact with anyone and would have no recognisable quality of life.
parents do not want the ventilator to be switched off. His father, whose
distress and desperation the Judge acknowledged as being almost unimaginable,
had sent video clips of M in intensive care to a “controversial figure”,
Professor Z, who claims to specialise in the rehabilitation of patients in
another country. The Judge heard evidence from Professor Z that he was of the
opinion M could make a recovery if he was treated with, amongst other things, a
technique of neuro-stimulation designed and demonstrated by him.
doctors described the supposed neuro-stimulation demonstrated by Professor Z as
being little more than massaging M’s face, head and limbs.
Judge rejected the evidence of Professor Z that his neuro-stimulation technique
would in any way start to reverse the brain damage and considered his evidence
had merely given a distressed, grieving family false hope where there was
Judge said that since M does not have the ability to make the decision himself,
the law requires the Court to decide whether it is in his best interests that
his life should be prolonged by the continuation of the present medical
treatment. He also emphasised that it is not an application by the doctors to
take a positive step to end the M’s life (e.g. by injecting him with a drug);
rather it is an application to withhold treatment (ventilation) which is
prolonging M’s life artificially.
judge recalled how the parents had powerfully and movingly expressed their
wishes to him before concluding:
“The starting point must always be that life should be
preserved and continued other than in exceptional circumstances. Added to that
side of the balance are the parents’ wishes and the support and commitment of
the extended family. Regrettably the other side of the scales is much heavier.
The extent of the damage to M is such that he has and will have no quality life,
he will always be dependent, his physical condition will deteriorate and he will
be prone to complications which will require further treatments. In short he
has no meaningful life and no dignity nor will he have in the future. The
prolongation of his life by ventilation can achieve nothing other than
prolongation of life for its own sake. In circumstances of this case I do not
believe that is enough.”
Justice O’Hara granted the application and further ordered that the best
possible palliative care should be provided to M.