Court battle baby can only feel 'continuing pain'

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The Independent Online

Doctors caring for a desperately-ill premature baby believe that she has "no feelings other than continuing pain" and a quality of life which is "both terrible and permanent", a High Court judge heard today.

One consultant had stated that to resuscitate 11-month-old Charlotte Wyatt if she stopped breathing for a fourth time would be "purposeless and therefore intolerable to her", Mr Justice Hedley was told.

The judge was hearing a plea by Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust for an order allowing doctors not to ventilate Charlotte in the event of a future critical episode and to allow her to die in peace.

The Trust is opposed by parents Darren and Debbie Wyatt, who were in court today to hear legal and medical argument presented to the judge over their daughter's future.

They believe Charlotte, having fought against the odds so far, has a real chance of survival and that everything possible should be done to keep her alive.

Charlotte was born three months premature at St Mary's Hospital, Portsmouth, in October last year weighing just one pound and measuring only five inches.

She has never left hospital and has stopped breathing three times due to serious heart and lung problems. She is fed through a tube because she cannot suck from a bottle and needs a constant supply of oxygen.

Paediatricians say she will not survive beyond infancy and even then will never leave hospital because of the terrible problems she faces.

The Trust has told Mr Wyatt, 33, and his 23-year-old wife - who is expecting their third child - that, in the event of another crisis for Charlotte, it is prepared to keep her alive long enough for them to attend at her bedside, but insists it would be "against the child's interests" artificially to resuscitate her.

The Trust says that, although parents can decide what treatment is given to their child, they cannot insist on inappropriate treatment which would bring more suffering than benefits.

The couple, both committed Christians, of Westminster Way, Buckland, Portsmouth, have visited Charlotte in hospital every day, sometimes with their 20-month-old son Daniel. Mr Wyatt has three children, aged 13, 12 and eight, from a previous marriage.

During the two-day court hearing, the judge will hear detailed evidence from medical specialists about Charlotte's chances of survival.

Charlotte's individual interests are being protected by lawyers for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS).

David Lock, counsel for the Trust, told the judge the case was "essentially non-adversarial".

"It isn't a case of either party winning or losing," he said.

"It concerns the vexed issue of the best treatment to be provided for what all the experts agree is an extremely ill baby with life-limiting conditions.

"Both the clinicians and the parents want the best for Charlotte, but there is a divergence about what would be in her best interests."

The parents accepted that the care given to their daughter so far had been of the highest standard and there was no criticism of the hospital.

"But, despite many hours of meetings and soul-searching on both sides, there is no agreement and the court has the unenviable job of deciding what is in the best interests of the child," said Mr Lock.