Leading article: Hard cases and good law

Share
Related Topics

The sad case of Baby RB, which has been argued to and fro before the High Court, ended summarily yesterday when the one-year-old boy's father accepted the hospital's case for withdrawing life support. This unexpected development had two immediate effects. The doctors are now within their rights to halt life support, so as to allow the severely disabled child – as the hospital put it – "a peaceful, calm and dignified death". And the judge will not have to reach a decision – although he hinted what it would have been when he said that the outcome was, in his view, "inevitable".

While it is clearly preferable, from the human point of view, that this case should have concluded with a consensus – between the doctors who argued for ending life support, the child's mother who agreed with them, and the father who objected – it is regrettable, from the legal and ethical perspective, that the judge was not required to weigh the arguments.

Technology is enabling doctors to prolong lives that would until very recently not have been viable. Baby RB, the court heard, had a severe muscular malfunction and could not breathe unaided; doctors caring for him essentially agreed that his affliction made any future life he might have not worth living. Against that had to be set the potential fallibility of doctors, the possibly conflicting interests of the parents and the child, the principle of the sanctity of life, and the less edifying matter of the cost to the public purse.

Many of these same issues came into play in the long-fought case of Charlotte Wyatt, where the parents eventually won the right not to have treatment withdrawn without their say-so. Charlotte survived against the odds; now five years old, she is reported to be thriving in foster care.

In their separate ways, the cases of Charlotte Wyatt and Baby RB reached conclusions that were acceptable, if deeply painful, to all concerned. And the way things turned out the court's intervention in both might now seem peripheral. Yet it is surely right that the arguments should be aired in this way. At a time of rapid medical advances and shifting public mores, the judgement of professionals needs to be tested – and the court is the place to do it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living