Leading article: Judgment of Solomon

Share

Many people, on hearing about the condition of the severely disabled baby at the centre of yesterday's High Court ruling, might be tempted to agree with the doctors who claim his young life is "intolerable". The 19-month-old boy, who has been in a high-dependency unit in hospital for almost his entire life, has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic condition that will eventually result in total paralysis. Already, the child cannot breathe without a ventilator. And the only part of his body that he can move voluntarily is his eyebrows. Many of us would consider such a life "intolerable" if similarly afflicted. But it is very dangerous to leap from such an acknowledgement to argue that this child's ventilator should be switched off. This is what the doctors treating this baby argued in court. And Mr Justice Holman was right to rule against them.

We do not argue this from a position of "pro-life" fundamentalism. This newspaper believes, for instance, that there is a strong case for changing the law to make voluntary euthanasia legal if the patient is competent to reach a considered decision. And we, of course, accept that medical techniques have developed to such an extent that it is now possible to keep a human body alive after the brain has died. A line clearly has to be drawn somewhere. In the tragic case of Charlotte Wyatt, two years ago, we agreed with the court ruling that, if the child were to suffer a seizure, it would be inhumane for doctors to attempt to revive her.

But there is a difference between refraining from taking action and actively withdrawing the means to live. The doctors in this latest case were wrong to argue that the humane course would be to switch off the baby's ventilator. However physically debilitated, there is no evidence that this child is mentally impaired. The doctors treating him do not dispute that he has sensory awareness. This was the first time a British court had been asked to decide on medical grounds whether a mentally functioning person should live or die. It would have been a grave decision indeed if the judge had found for the hospital.

We must also bear in mind the feelings of the parents. In this case they argued powerfully that their son has a quality of life and should be kept attached to the ventilator. The wishes of the parents in such cases must be paramount. They should take precedence over the opinions of doctors, unless there is an overwhelming reason to discount them.

We do not claim that this was a simple case. To be absolutely sure of reaching the right verdict, Mr Justice Holman needed to perform the impossible task of getting inside the head of a severely disabled baby who lacked any means of communication. But, in the absence of any compelling evidence of brain damage or unbearable pain, the judge reached the only humane decision available to him.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP FICO SOLUTION ANALYST

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP FICO SOLUTI...

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

SAP PROJECT MANAGER

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MAN...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Developer

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A unique and rare opport...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Why black cats make amazing pets, and take good selfies too

Felicity Morse
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star