Judge Opposes Doctors, Says Baby Can Stay On Ventilator
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
March 15, 2006
LONDON, ENGLAND--The family of an 18-month-old boy said they were overjoyed Wednesday after a judge went against the judgment of 14 doctors and said their son should be helped to live.
"At first I felt my heart going and then I just felt like jumping up when he did say it," said the unnamed mother of the boy, identified only as "Baby M.B.".
She told the BBC that when she phoned the boy's brother and sister to tell them the good news, "I couldn't even hear what they were saying because they were jumping around."
Baby M.B. has spinal muscular atrophy, a type of motor neuron disease that has weakened his muscles to the point that he cannot eat or breathe on his own. Doctors at the hospital, where he has been since he was seven weeks old, claimed that his condition continues to deteriorate and the quality of his life is so "intolerable" that he should be removed from the ventilator to "die with dignity". They petitioned the court to remove the ventilator against the parents' wishes.
In his ruling, Mr. Justice Holman of the High Court's Family Division said that while the boy would not enjoy many simple childhood pleasures, he likely could still hear, see, feel and bond with his family, which visits him for eight or nine hours each day.
"It must be assumed that he processes all of those sights and sounds like any child of his age and gains pleasure from them," he wrote.
"No court has yet been asked to approve, against the will of parents, the withdrawal of life support with the inevitable and immediate death of a conscious child with sensory awareness and cognition, and no significant evidence of brain damage."
The judge noted, however, that doctors could refuse to resuscitate Baby MB if his heart stops, or refuse to give him antibiotics if he develops certain infections.
The boy's parents want their son to undergo a tracheotomy -- an operation in which a breathing tube would be permanently inserted through a hole in his throat -- so that he can go home with them to enjoy as normal a life as possible.
Last month, a judge in a separate court ruled that St. Mary's Hospital could refuse a ventilator for two-year-old Charlotte Wyatt if she stops breathing, against her parents wishes. Doctors at the Portsmouth hospital have argued that Charlotte, who was born several weeks premature, is not aware of her surroundings, and that the quality of her life is also "intolerable". Her parents have battled the hospital through the courts to keep their daughter alive.
Many experts considered the ruling in Baby M.B.'s case important because it is the first time a case in which a baby with no brain damage has come before the court.
"Sick baby's chance at life" (BBC News)
"Sick baby's family thanks judge" (BBC News)
"Reaction to right-to-life ruling" (BBC News)
"Is Baby MBs life a life worth living?" (BBC Forums)