Court: UK baby must remain on life support for 6 more days

Associated Press

PARIS — A European court ordered Britain on Tuesday to maintain a terminally-ill baby on life support for six more days after his parents, desperate to take their son to the U.S. for experimental treatment, lost their appeals before U.K. courts.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the British government should provide Charlie Gard , a 10-month-old baby suffering from a rare genetic disease, with artificial ventilation until midnight June 19.

The seven-judge panel considered that “serious and irreparable harm may occur” if doctors at a London hospital are allowed to stop treatment before the court is expected to review the case if the parents file a full application in the next few days.

Three different British courts, including the Supreme Court, have ruled in favor of lifting life support, which would prevent the parents from bringing Charlie to the U.S. to undergo a therapy trial.

The European court’s ruling is aimed at giving the parents time to submit a complete application. If no such substantive request is brought to the court by Monday night, the provisional order will be lifted and doctors will be allowed to withdraw Charlie’s life support and provide only palliative care.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates, Charlie’s parents, have yet to submit a full application before the Strasbourg, France-based court. Their request has been only for an urgent interim measure so far. They have exhausted legal options in the U.K. and their only hope now lies with European judges.

Charlie’s fate has moved the British public, and media in the country have passionately followed the legal battle. The parents have managed to raise around 1.3 million pounds (1.7 million dollars) in four months online through a crowdfunding website to cover doctors’ bills in the U.S.

The baby is kept alive by a mechanical ventilator in a London hospital. He has a rare inherited disease that has made his condition deteriorate seriously since he was born in August. Charlie can’t move his arms or legs or breathe unaided. His brain is severely affected, and there was a significant decline in the level of his brain functioning in January, the U.K. Supreme Court explained last week in dismissing the parents’ appeal.

The parents, a couple in their 30s living in west London, aren’t asking the hospital to provide or continue treatment at public expense on a long-term basis. They just want doctors to keep their son alive by artificial means until they can take him to the U.S. for the new therapy which, they hope, might result in some improvement of his condition.

Before the British courts, Gard and Yates’ lawyers had pleaded that parents, and parents alone, are the judges of their child’s best interests. But, in a statement explaining its ruling, the Supreme Court stated last week that “the welfare of the child shall be the paramount consideration” in any question regarding his upbringing in any proceedings.

Justices said that if there is a significant dispute about a child’s best interests, the child himself must have an independent voice in that dispute.

“It cannot be left to the parents alone,” their statement read. That’s why Charlie has been represented by a guardian in the case. That guardian has investigated the case in Charlie’s best interests and has agreed with the hospital and with the High Court’s judge who found that further treatment would be “futile,” it said.

The Supreme Court said that it’s likely that Charlie “will suffer significant harm if his present suffering is prolonged without any realistic prospect of improvement” and so the “parents are not entitled to insist upon treatment which is not in their child’s best interest.”

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