Leading article: Judgment of Solomon


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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower