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“Right to life” Archie Battersbee case goes to European Court

levelling up the judicial system

The family of Archie Battersbee, a boy who has been in a coma since April have lost the domestic legal fight to postpone the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment for Archie. The family have now turned to the European Court of Human Rights to seek the postponing this potentially fatal decision.

Archie Battersbee

Hollie Dance, Archie’s mother has stated that Archie was hospitalized after finding him unconscious in early April of this year. Archie never regained consciousness and has subsequently been in coma since. After four months in a coma, his doctors concluded that Archie is brain-stem dead and as a result, he cannot live without life support. However, his parents are determined for Archie to continue receiving life support treatment as they believe there are a wide variety of treatments that available for Archie.

Legal challenges for Archie Battersbee

Archie Battersbee’s family lost their initial case, when the judge determined that the procedure to withdraw his treatment was a procedure that Barts NHS Health Trust can take. The Government subsequently allowed Archie’s parents to appeal this decision at the Court of Appeal. Unfortunately for his family, the request to extend this treatment was refused by the three judges.

The next route of appeal for Archie’s family was the Supreme Court. They wanted the Supreme Court justice to prohibit hospital bosses from stopping life support treatment until the family have enough time to make an application to the UN. Archie’s family stated that the UN protocol that permits “individuals and families” to make complaints about violations of disabled people’s rights. The UN Committee on the rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) had also requested for Archie’s case to be heard, thereby conferring to the extension of Archie Battersbee’s treatment.

In light of this, Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lord Justice Moylan, and Lady Justice King delayed the withdrawal of Archie’s treatment for the Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday. Unfortunately for Archie Battersbee’s family the family division panel did find an error in the original judgement. Central to their decision, McFarlane concluded that Archie’s “system, organs and ultimately his heart are in the process of closing down.”

After hearing this determination, Archie’s family stated that they want to make an urgent application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) . However, this needed to have been done by 09:00 BST, which has now passed. After initially concern by Archie Battersbee’s mother over the short timeframe they have had to submit such an application, as of 11:00 today this has been submitted to the ECHR.

Archie Battersbee’s mother Hollie Dance stated that “We are very relieved, we are having to battle every decision with the hospital.” In addition, she remarked that the family “now hope and pray that the ECHR will look favorably on the application. We will not give up on Archie until the end.”

However, Barts NHS Health Trust which runs the Royal London Hospital where Archie is being treated said changes to his treatment would not be made until legal issues were resolved.

End of life – notable case law

The tragic events and hard decisions on the topic of end-of-life treatment is not new to legal case law. One of the most notable cases was determined in the House of Lords in Airedale NHS Trust v Bland, which decided that it would be lawful or medical staff to terminate life sustaining treatment. This allowed the patient to die as he was suffering from a persistent state of vegetation (PSV). However, in this case, the parents made an application to terminate his life. The case saw the introduction to the “best interest” test, which held that it was not in the best interest for continued treatment for the patient.

Despite this case, it is clear that the end-of-life discourse fails to be resolved. On the grounds of human rights, namely the right to life.

Final Thought

The tragic case of Archie Battersbee’s demonstrates that we as a country continue to have deeply unresolved legal determinations on the right to life vs best interests. The notable fight, namely by Archie’s mother demonstrates the clear argument of caution necessary when making the withdrawal of life support treatments by hospitals. It also raises the wider argument of how we view people in the state of vegetation or with serious compounding needs.

Outside of this case, it is notable that ministers have urged the domestic courts to take advice from the UN. Whilst the wider consensus amongst government ministers have been to criticize international legal bodies.

It is abundantly clear that the adversarial system in disputes around the end of life can create unnecessary pain for both sides of the tragic circumstances. It raises the question: could independent mediation avoid extended painful and expensive legal cases on such a complex topic?

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