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Judge says severely ill baby can be allowed to die against parents’ wishes

Mr Justice Hayden made a ruling late on Tuesday after a private, virtual, hearing in the Family Division of the High Court.

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A judge based at the Royal Courts of Justice, in central London has ruled that a baby can be allowed to die, against his parents’ wishes, at a virtual hearing. PA/Nick Ansell

A judge based at the Royal Courts of Justice, in central London has ruled that a baby can be allowed to die, against his parents’ wishes, at a virtual hearing. PA/Nick Ansell

A judge based at the Royal Courts of Justice, in central London has ruled that a baby can be allowed to die, against his parents’ wishes, at a virtual hearing. PA/Nick Ansell

Doctors can stop providing life-support treatment to a severely ill baby against his parents’ wishes, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice Hayden said specialists could lawfully move the eight-week-old boy, who has a severe liver impairment, to a palliative care regime.

The boy’s parents praised the efforts doctors and nurses had made but thought all options had not been exhausted.

They also said stopping life-support treatment was against their Muslim beliefs, and argued that while there was breath there was life, and while there was life there was hope.

But specialists told the judge that there was no prospect of the boy, who had been in intensive care since he was three days old, surviving.

Doctors said he had been diagnosed with necrotising enterocolitis, a condition, commonly known as NEC, which causes tissues in the intestine to become inflamed and start to die.

They said he could not breathe without the aid of a ventilator and would die in pain if allowed to die naturally.

Mr Justice Hayden said ending intensive care was in the boy’s best interests.

He made a ruling late on Tuesday after considering the case at a virtual hearing in the Family Division of the High Court.

The judge, who is based at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, said it was the first time he had been asked to make such a decision about a child at a virtual hearing.

Judges are currently overseeing hearings remotely because of the coronavirus crisis.

Bosses at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have responsibility for the baby’s care and had asked the judge to decide what moves were in his best interests.

They said they had hoped that an agreement could be reached with the boy’s parents without the need for a court hearing.

The judge considered evidence at a private hearing.

He said journalists could report the case but said the baby could not be identified.

The baby’s parents, who were not represented by lawyers, watched proceedings on a mobile phone from hospital while sitting near their son.

His father addressed the judge and argued that life-support treatment should continue.

Covid-19 restrictions meant that he had not been able to visit hospital when his son was born, he said.

He said he had only seen his son in intensive care.

At one point the judge asked lawyers, and a reporter, to log out of the virtual hearing so he could look at the baby, via the father’s mobile, with the parents.

Mr Justice Hayden said the baby’s parents held “profound” Islamic beliefs.

He said the father believed while there is life there is hope.

“However, the clinical team are satisfied that there is no prospect of (the boy) surviving.

“The challenge is to ensure that his death is as comfortable and as dignified and as free from pain as can practically be achieved.”

He added: “I believe it is in the best interests of (the boy) to stop intensive care to move to palliative care.

“I am satisfied that intensive care is futile.”

Mr Justice Hayden told the baby’s parents: “I am so sorry.”

PA