Right-to-die case: mother's view paramount, says paediatrician

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A mother's wishes for her child's care outweigh a father's opinion, a right-to-die trial was told yesterday. Hospital doctors favour a mother's views on the treatment of her child and give them "particular weight", a leading paediatrician told the High Court.

The one-year-old boy had "a normal brain inside an immobile and non-communicative body" and was unable to indicate by, for instance, facial expression when he was in pain, respiratory paediatrician Professor B said.

He was speaking during a High Court hearing in which the baby's parents are divided over whether their son should be allowed to live or die in peace.

Prof B - like the parties to the dispute, he cannot be named for legal reasons - said that in cases of disagreement between parents over their child he would normally give particular weight to the views of the mother, who in this case felt that her son's life support should be withdrawn.

"This is not because of any personal factor," he told Mr Justice McFarlane. "I respect both views very greatly. But I think the view of the mother should always be taken very very seriously.

"This is not to trivialise the views of the father, but most paediatricians would find it very difficult to overrule the views of the mother."

Clearly, RB's father loved his son devotedly and had spent many, many hours by his hospital bedside trying to interact with him "and I respect his views and give weight to them".

The health authority caring for the baby in an intensive care unit is seeking a court order allowing his ventilator to be switched off so that, with palliative care, he can die with dignity rather than continuing to live a "miserable and pitiful" existence.

The authority's court move is supported by RB's mother, who is estranged from his father but still joins him at their son's bedside on a regular basis.

The father opposes the application and says his son should have the chance to live, even though chronically disabled. But he accepts that the time may come when he should be allowed to die. The case continues.