Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

Right-to-life court fight man dies

A terminally-ill 18-year-old man who was at the centre of a right-to-life legal dispute between his parents and doctors has died, lawyers say.

Alexander Elliott's case hit the headlines in February when a judge gave specialists working for the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust permission to withhold treatment.

Mrs Justice Hogg analysed the case at a hearing in the Court of Protection - where issues relating to sick and vulnerable people are considered - in London.

Doctors said they feared that Mr Elliott had no more than two weeks to live and a neurosurgeon said ''active treatment'' was ''futile''.

But the teenager's parents - Brian and Olya Elliott - disagreed.

They asked Mrs Justice Hogg to allow chemotherapy to continue.

Mrs Elliott launched what Mrs Justice Hogg described as a ''passionate'' fight at a late-night hearing which lasted more than eight hours.

And judges have been told at subsequent hearings in recent weeks that Mr Elliott had remained alive and "surpassed all expectations''.

A solicitor representing the Elliott family - Laura Hobey-Hamsher, who works for law firm Bindmans - said yesterday that Mr Elliott had died early that morning.

Mrs Justice Hogg had made an order barring reporters from revealing the identities of anyone involved while Mr Elliott was alive.

Mr Elliott's father tonight paid tribute to his son, who had a brain tumour.

"My son was a courageous fighter, and the very definition of brave." he said.

"He went in his own time, with his dignity and autonomy intact, and not at the behest of the hospital trust who, since February, have repeatedly told the court that it was in his best interests for further life-preserving treatment to be stopped, and for him to be left to die.

"Had the trust succeeded in their application in February, we would have been denied his company over these last few months, and he would have been denied the last four precious months of his life."

A spokesman for University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust said: "We are deeply saddened by Alex's death at a tragically young age. This is an extremely difficult and distressing time for his parents and we are doing all we can to support them."

The spokesman added that, i n addition, guidance was sought from the Court of Protection to clarify independently what was in his best interests.

"Although very upsetting for his family, Alex had reached a point where all medical and surgical treatment options had been exhausted and, due to his deteriorating condition, any further intervention would have been futile and risked causing him great distress."

Last year the same trust was involved in a separate dispute with the family of a sick five-year-old boy.

The parents of Ashya King hit the headlines after taking the youngster from a hospital without doctors' permission.

In September, a High Court judge gave Brett and Naghmeh King permission to take Ashya - who also had a brain tumour - to a clinic in Prague to receive treatment not available in England.

Mr Justice Baker, who analysed the case at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London, approved a treatment plan following discussions between lawyers representing Mr and Mrs King and the trust.

In February, Mrs Elliott, who is Russian, had pleaded with Mrs Justice Hogg from the hospital where Mr Elliott was being cared for - via a telephone link to the court room.

She gave evidence, questioned consultants over the phone and appeared to be choking with emotion on a number of occasions.

Mrs Justice Hogg at one point ordered a break in the hearing to allow her to go to Mr Elliott's bedside.

She told told the judge: ''I don't want to hear you say he has to die. I don't want to be part of that. I'm afraid I can't.''

Mrs Elliott had said she was "fighting for my child's life".

The woman said her son had a ''normal life'' for a child who had a brain tumour.

''It's just seems you want him to die. The sooner the better,'' she told one doctor at the hearing.

''It makes me worry you are not acting in his best interests. You just want it to get over and done with.''

The woman said he son still got a ''lot of enjoyment'' from his family and told the judge that they ''absolutely adored'' him.

''He is a miracle child and has survived things you thought he would not,'' she said. ''He deserves a chance.''

She added: ''Doctors should treat the patient to the very end. That is how I see it."

Barrister John McKendrick, for the teenager's father, said his client also wanted chemotherapy to continue.

Mrs Justice Hogg said she understood how difficult the situation was for the teenager's parents.

''The parents want everything to be done to keep (him) alive,'' she said.

''The mother is clearly very passionate. The father follows suit.''

But she said she had to base her decision on the evidence and decide what was in the teenager's best interests, and made no criticism of doctors or medical staff.

She added: ''I am satisfied that chemotherapy should not be resumed.'' And she said there should be no resuscitation and no neurosurgical treatment.

She said the teenager should get as much palliative treatment and care as could be offered.

The judge had concluded that the teenager lacked the mental capacity to make decisions about treatment, or to litigate.

He had been represented at the hearing by court-appointed lawyers and a barrister had questioned doctors on his behalf.

Mrs Justice Hogg said she had asked herself what the teenager would want, adding that it was a difficult question because there was no ''real evidence'' from him.

At a follow-up hearing in May, senior doctors defended their treatment of Mr Elliott.

A palliative care consultant told another judge - Mr Justice Newton - that she had done her ''absolute utmost''.

She said Mr Elliott was dying and put his life expectancy at less than two months.

The doctor described Mr Elliott as ''incredibly fragile'' and told the judge: ''For the rest of my professional career, probably for the rest of my life, when I think of fragile I will not think of an 80 or 90-year-old person, I will think of Alex.''


From Belfast Telegraph