Court action over Baby RB's life

For those of you who think that judges do not deal with difficult decisions, and that even if they do, the case of Airedale NHS Trust v Bland (1993) makes things easier for them, the case of Baby RB may cause you to think again.

Baby RB had been hospitalised since his birth in October 2008 and has needed constant care.  It transpired that he had suffered from congenital myasthenic syndrome, which left him with very little muscle control.  Baby RB, only one-year-old, had been on a ventilator since an hour after his birth.  Medical staff at the NHS hospital where Baby RB was being cared for, wanted to turn off the baby's life support and let him die. 
The hospital's medical staff  were reported as being firmly of the view that by maintaining Baby RB on the life support would effectively result in RB leading "a miserable , sad and pitiful existence".
His mother has supported their application.  His father objected to the application.
The case is a further reminder of the considerable care that the family court takes over such applications including hearing all the parties concerned. This included hearing from a medical expert, a consultant in paediatric intensive care, who told Mr Justice McFarlane that the little boy was "not a candidate" for tracheotomy.

Baby RB's father had put forward the idea that  a tracheotomy – creating an opening in the neck to deliver air to the lungs – would allow him to be taken off his hospital ventilator and possibly Baby RB could be treated at home.

However the father withdrew his opposition to the application for permission to switch off the life support after hearing the medical evidence.  Apparently Baby RB  would still be dependent on artificial ventilation and, in an emergency, it  would probably be necessary to remove his breathing tube, causing far greater distress than if he were in hospital on a life support machine.

In light of this change of position, lawyers for the health authority told Mr Justice McFarlane that all parties now agreed that it would be in the boy's best interests for the course proposed by the doctors to be followed.

The judge made an order that RB's parents and the trust make appropriate arrangements to bring the baby's life to "a dignified end".

The judge said it was a "sad but in my view inevitable outcome" and the "only tenable one for RB".

For further information about the courts approach to these difficult Family court cases go to AirdaleNHS Trust v Bland (1993).

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