Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Grieving parents showed courage and love to let little Baby RB die

It is difficult to imagine the anguish that the parents of little RB, the baby who died at the weekend after he was taken off ventilation equipment in hospital, have gone through in recent months.

The baby had been breathing with the help of machinery since he was born in October a year ago. He was unable to breathe or swallow for himself.

There is no doubt that the baby's parents both loved him immensely, yet they found themselves in court fighting over the baby's future.

The mother wanted to remove the ventilation equipment — a decision backed up by hospital doctors. They could see no independent life for the baby.

But the father opposed this move. He wanted the baby to have an operation which meant he could be ventilated through his windpipe and could therefore be brought home.

After several days of intense and emotional scenes the father relented and dropped his opposition to the mother's decision.

Both were at the child's side when the ventilation was removed. The baby died within minutes.

Both spent most of the day cuddling and kissing the baby and saying their goodbyes. In spite of having had different opinions which led to a court case, they found a common cause at the end.

Indeed, almost uniquely, in such cases their humanity overcame their opinions. Ultimately both just wanted what they thought was best for the child. That may seem a strange thing to say when what they agreed on was a course of action which meant the inevitable death of the child.

There will be some people who feel that neither the parents nor the medical staff had the right to withdraw ventilation from the child. If a means to keep the child alive is available then why should it not be used is their argument — and it is a powerful one.

There are many parents who live with profoundly disabled children whom they would never dream of allowing to die if there was an alternative available. Their dedication and love for their children is absolutely astonishing and a striking example of humanity.

But there are many others who will agree with the parents of little RB. In an interview at the weekend his mother said that the child was little more than a guinea pig and that he belonged more to the medical profession and the courts than he did to his parents.

None of us know how we would react if faced with caring for such a profoundly disabled child. Would we be content to keep that child alive, even if tied permanently to a piece of equipment? Would we rather that artificial aids were removed and that nature took its course?

If RB had been an elderly person it would have been, in all probability, a less emotional case. There is a more general perception that quality of life means more to the elderly and that when they are reduced to a state where they are kept alive mechanically, then nature should be allowed to take over.

But with children the feeling in many cases is that life should be prolonged no matter how. That is unfair to parents and unfair to the child. The parents of RB showed enormous courage — and enormous love for their infant son — in taking the action they did.

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