Court to rule on allowing severely disabled boy to die

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The Independent Online

The parents of a severely disabled 17-month-old boy will hear today if the High Court has decided to allow doctors to let him die.

Lawyers for the hospital trust treating the boy have argued that his quality of life is so poor that they should be allowed to take him off the ventilator that is keeping him alive. But his parents want their son to undergo surgery that they claim would enable him to live at home and enjoy a better quality of life.

The case is similar to that of Charlotte Wyatt, the two-year-old girl who has been the subject of varying court orders on her right to life-saving treatment.

Last week, a High Court judge reinstated an original ruling that doctors treating her had the right not to put her on a ventilator if her condition worsened.

Charlotte, who is profoundly disabled, is suffering from an aggressive viral infection which doctors thought would be fatal, but she has once again defied medical opinion and has begun to improve.

In the latest case, neither the boy nor the hospital trust treating him can be named because of the high emotions surrounding right-to-life decisions. Doctors in the Charlotte Wyatt case have received death threats and now give evidence anonymously at court hearings.

The boy, known as MB, is from the North of England and suffers from spinal muscular atrophy, an incurable and progressive weakening of the muscles which eventually causes total paralysis. He cannot chew, swallow or breathe unaided and can only move his eyebrows, feet and fingers very slightly. He is being kept alive on a ventilator, but the NHS trust has made an application to turn off the machine to let him die peacefully.

MB's parents say that he is not mentally disabled, and recognises and responds to them when they visit him in hospital. They want him to undergo a tracheotomy, an operation in which a hole is cut into the windpipe and a tube inserted to allow a patient to breathe.

His mother said: "We want our son to have a tracheotomy so we could take him home and give him a life instead of him being stuck in a hospital cubicle.

"We are very hopeful we can persuade the court that his quality of life is good enough so that treatment should not be withdrawn."

The case began in private at the High Court yesterday and the judge is expected to give his ruling today.

Chris Gawne, of Alexander Harris, the family's solicitors, said: "The ruling from the court will determine whether their son is to live or die.

"We hope for a positive verdict which will enable Baby MB's life to continue."

The solicitors point to the case of 19-month-old Abbie Tinkley, who also has spinal muscular atrophy. Doctors treating her at the Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool wanted to withdraw ventilation from her earlier this year, but her parents successfully lobbied for her to have a tracheotomy. She has since undergone the procedure and her parents say that her quality of life has improved immeasurably.

Experts say that the Wyatt case has not led to an increase in the number of right-to-life cases coming to court, but that such cases now have a higher profile.