Parents lose legal battle to keep baby Charlotte alive

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The Independent Online

Darren and Debbie Wyatt, of Portsmouth, were attempting to overturn a High Court order, made in October last year, allowing doctors treating their 22-month-old daughter, Charlotte, not to resuscitate the baby.

Charlotte was born three months premature, weighing just 16oz and suffering from damage to the brain, kidneys and lungs.

Charlotte's doctors at St Mary's Hospital in Portsmouth argue that her brain and other organs are so badly damaged that her quality of life is virtually non-existent with "no feelings other than continuing pain".

Mr Justice Hedley, who granted the order, said he did not believe "any further aggressive treatment, even if necessary to prolong her life, is in her best interests".

At a hearing in April at which Mr and Mrs Wyatt attempted to have the order rescinded, Charlotte's doctors said resuscitating their daughter if she stopped breathing would be "pointless and possibly inhumane" because it would only prolong her suffering.

Rejecting Mr and Mrs Wyatt's appeal yesterday, Lords Justices Laws, Wall and Lloyd said a review of the case ordered by Mr Justice Hedley should be accelerated, with a directions hearing next month.

Lord Justice Laws said the court "attached a high importance to the up-to-date position being properly investigated" with a view to a decision on whether the order should "now continue".

The Wyatts, who were present in court, expressed optimism after the result was announced. Mr Wyatt said: "We are keeping our fingers crossed." A letter from the hospital to Mr and Mrs Wyatt, dated 1 August, said that hospital staff had been encouraged by her remarkable progress to date but insisted there was no change in her underlying condition.

The couple's counsel, David Wolfe, said that last year's ruling had hung over the couple, who are devout Christians, like a "sword of Damocles".

"They say that, given the improvements in Charlotte's situation and given her continuing improvement, the doctors should not have in their back pockets an open consent from the court to let Charlotte die regardless of the circumstances at the time and regardless of the views of her parents," he added.

The court heard how Charlotte had defied medical opinion and survived, despite bleak predictions that she was not likely to last the winter of 2004.

She has gained weight, is being given pureed food, has grown taller and can now show "what may be enjoyment of things".

Mr Wolfe said that Charlotte had been a "prisoner" in the oxygen head box, but had defied all expectations. Previously, nothing other than the head box or mask would deliver sufficient oxygen, but she currently spent a few hours each day on nasal cannulae, a device which which conveyed oxygen to her. During those periods she was seated in a chair, giving her a better quality of life. She had not yet been able to go home, said Mr Wolfe, but what had been ruled out before "is now being discussed as a real possibility".

Mr Wolfe said that Charlotte now spent short amounts of time seated in a chair.

He added that Mrs Wyatt was 21 weeks pregnant "and the strain this is placing on her is not helping her or the family". The Wyatts have two other children, Daniel, three, and David, nine months.

David Lock, acting for Portsmouth NHS Trust, stressed that "this is not a case about disability, this is a case about the balance between the benefits a treatment will deliver, if any, and the injury, the pain and the downsides of inflicting that treatment."

He added that the trust did not wish to hold on to the declaration granted by Mr Justice Hedley "any longer than is necessary".