Doctors can withhold sick boy's life-saving treatment

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Doctors caring for a terminally ill baby boy won a High Court order yesterday allowing them to withhold life-saving treatment from him.

Doctors caring for a terminally ill baby boy won a High Court order yesterday allowing them to withhold life-saving treatment from him.

Luke Winston-Jones, aged nine months, who has a rare genetic disorder, should not be placed on a ventilator if he stops breathing, a judge ruled.

His mother, Ruth, had refused to give her consent to withdrawal of treatment, claiming her son is a "fighter" and accusing doctors of "playing God" by deciding to let him die.

The medical team at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool argued that Luke's condition was so poor that it was not in his best interests to receive "aggressive treatment".

Giving her judgment, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss, president of the Family Division of the High Court, appealed to Mrs Winston-Jones to accept the decision and work with her son's doctors over his future care.

The judge said: "It is important that everyone in this case, both hospitals and particularly the mother and her family, who have been so supportive of her, should turn over a new leaf and move forward. I very much hope that she and Luke will have the longest possible peaceful and happy period together ... It is the duty of the mother for the sake of Luke to reduce areas of conflict to a minimum and listen to what is proposed by those who have a great deal of medical and nursing experience."

Luke suffers from a genetic disorder called Edwards syndrome and has spent most of his life in hospital. He has three holes in his heart and suffers heart seizures, which means he stops breathing and has to be placed on a ventilator. Doctors say he also has severe developmental delays and physical abnormalities and has no awareness of his surroundings.

Only 10 per cent of children with Edwards Syndrome survive beyond their first birthday.

Mrs Winston-Jones, who is separated and has two other children, aged 7 and 11, believes her son responds to her and other relatives and has a reasonable quality of life. She says that he likes music being played and is comforted by being cuddled in a particular shawl.

During the case, doctors conceded to her request that Luke should receive cardiac massage by hand if he suffers a heart seizure, and that a care plan will be drawn up to allow him to be cared for at home. But the judge said that Luke's life "would not be worth living" if he was placed on a ventilator, as he would be in pain and unable to be cuddled by his mother.

Mrs Winston-Jones, 35, from Holyhead, north Wales, wept as she heard the ruling but said she would not appeal against the judgment.

Outside court, her solicitor, Muiris Lyons, said: "Ruth has fought long and hard for Luke in what has been a very difficult nine months. He is a fighter who has surprised the doctors who have treated him. All Ruth has wanted is for Luke to be given a fighting chance and today he has been given that."

The Royal Liverpool Children's NHS Trust and North West Wales NHS Trust, which had sought the High Court order, said they were "very satisfied" with the ruling.

A spokeswoman said: "This is an extremely difficult case in which both trusts have considered very carefully the need to seek the court's ruling on future treatment for Luke. The hospitals have a duty to place the patient's best interests first, but also have to do the utmost to recognise the wishes of the family wherever possible."

It is the second such case to come before the High Court in the past few weeks. Last month, Mr Justice Hedley ruled that one-year-old Charlotte Wyatt, who was born premature and has severe mental and physical handicaps, should not be resuscitated if she stops breathing. Experts say more such cases may have to be decided by the courts because of advances in the treatment of sick babies.

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