Life-support boy, 5, dies after court ruling

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The Independent Online

A five-year-old brain-damaged child has died in a Channel Islands hospital two days after the Islands' Royal Court gave permission for the medical treatment that kept the boy alive to be ended.

The court sat for four hours in St Helier, Jersey, on Saturday before deciding to allow doctors to withdraw feeding tubes and end treatment.

It was the first time such an application had been made in the Channel Islands. The court has ordered that the identity of the family be protected.

The boy, referred to as Michael, suffered brain damage after he was found near the bottom of a private swimming pool on Jersey on 4 September. Michael's father desperately tried to resuscitate his son even though he appeared to be dead, having been under water for 10 to 15 minutes. An ambulance crew continued the resuscitation attempt and by the time they reached hospital Michael had a heartbeat.

The court's landmark judgment was made public yesterday afternoon. Judge Deputy Bailiff Francis Hamon said this verdict did not open the way to euthanasia cases. He confirmed the sanctity of human life but said doctors' evidence showed that the last vestiges of hope of a recovery had gone.

Peter Garrett of the anti-abortion group Life said that things had moved too quickly. He compared the case to the long-running legal battle over a victim of the Hillsborough disaster. "They have gone through in three weeks what took years in that case."

Mr Garrett added: "I would have taken advice from more specialists. He should have been kept alive, you can't make these decisions in less than two years. The boy was in a lot of pain and compassion has moved them in the direction of acceleration."

Dr Henry Spratt, a consultant paediatrician, told the court that Michael opened his eyes the day after the accident, but began suffering severe spasms. A brain scan revealed the extent of his injuries. He was transferred to a specialist unit at Southampton General Hospital and began to recover.

There was one dissenting voice over Michael's case. A consultant paediatric neurologist at the Southampton unit, Dr Colin Kennedy, wrote: "The chances of him dying in the near future remain substantial. On the other hand, there is a small chance that his survival will be prolonged."

Dr Spratt said that when Michael returned to Jersey his condition deteriorated to the point where it was believed that all hopes of recovery were gone. "This leaves in its wake the great practical problem of how to relieve the continuing pitiable suffering of this likely dying child," he said.

On 26 September Michael's father asked for feeding to stop. In a letter shown to the court he wrote: "Furnish medical treatment for the sole purpose of enabling him to end his life and die peacefully with the greatest dignity and the least distress." The order was given and Michael died yesterday at 7am.

Giving his judgment, Judge Hamon said: "We do not believe that in this judgment we have interfered in any way with the hallowed concepts of criminal law. We must reiterate that we confirm, above all things, the sanctity of human life.

"We believe that how Michael died will affect how his short life is remembered by those who grieve his passing."