High Court allows infant’s treatment to be withheld

Family Law|August 20th 2015

President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has approved an application to withhold treatment for a very ill child.

Identified in the judgement as ‘Jake’, the 10 month-old boy had several seizures early in his life and was subsequently diagnosed with epilepsy, cerebral palsy and an inability to safely eat or drink.

The NHS Foundation Trust responsible for Jake’s treatment applied to the High Court for permission to withhold treatment from the child should his condition deteriorate any further. One of Jake’s doctors prepared medical evidence for the court. She said that she “would not expect him to survive early childhood”.

She added that in several scenarios such as cardiac arrest, infection or a general deterioration of Jake’s condition, the necessary treatments would be “invasive, potentially painful and would be burdensome and futile in the face of imminent death or inevitable demise”.

Jake’s parents had each been diagnosed with learning difficulties. They were “understandably deeply distressed by their son’s condition and the agonising situation in which they all find themselves”. Through his solicitor, the father said that the pain caused by treatment “outweighed any benefit”. The mother agreed that putting Jake on a “breathing machine” would most likely hurt him.

Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Sir James said that, despite the mother’s “limitations” she “nonetheless understands the fundamentals” of the case and had expressed “an entirely understandable and indeed appropriate view”.

As the application was not opposed by anyone, the President made an order that it would be lawful if Jake’s doctors withheld treatment should his circumstances worsen. He added that his ruling did not prevent the doctors from administering “any medical treatment that they consider to be in his best interests at any particular time”.

Re Jake (A Child) is available in full online. To read it, click here.

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