Baby’s life support ‘can be turned off’

Belfast High Court
Belfast High Court

A baby who suffered irreversible brain damage can be removed from a ventilator keeping him alive, the High Court has ruled.

Even though the five-month-old boy’s parents opposed switching off the machine, a judge held that medical staff should not resuscitate him if the need arises.

According to Mr Justice O’Hara, the child has no quality of life and will only suffer a deteriorating physical condition.

He said: “In short, he has no meaningful life and no dignity nor will he have in the future.”

The child, referred to as M, was involved in an incident last month which caused his heart to stop.

Despite doctors managing to get it pumping again, his brain was starved of oxygen – inflicting overwhelming brain damage.

In all likelihood the child has been left blind, deaf, and severely mentally and physically disabled.

He is not thought to be in pain because of the extent of brain damage.

M is currently being kept alive by a ventilator because it is believed he could not breathe unaided for more than a short period of time.

Successive scans have shown no improvement, the court heard.

Doctors treating the baby believe he can never recover to any form of living which does not involve continual ventilation. He would not be able to interact with anyone and would have no recognisable quality of life.

As part of their battle against having the ventilator switched off, M’s parents sent video clips of him in intensive care to a controversial figure, Professor Z, who claims to specialise in the rehabilitation of patients in another country.

Mr Justice O’Hara heard evidence from Professor Z that M could make a recovery if he was treated with, amongst other things, a technique of neuro-stimulation designed and demonstrated by him.

But doctors treating the baby claimed this was little more than massaging his face, head and limbs.

He considered his evidence had merely given a distressed, grieving family false hope where there was none.

With M unable to make the decision for himself, Mr Justice O’Hara held it was up to the court to decide whether it is in his best interests to prolong his life by continuing the present medical treatment.

Granting the application sought, the judge further ordered that M should receive the best possible palliative care.