Friday 28 April 2017

Doctors can stop baby's life-support treatment against 'devastated' parents' wishes, High Court rules

Chris Gard and Connie Yates are 'devastated' by the High Court's decision
Chris Gard and Connie Yates are 'devastated' by the High Court's decision

Brian Farmer

The parents of a terminally-ill baby are considering their next move after a High Court judge ruled that doctors could stop providing life-support treatment.

Mr Justice Francis on Tuesday decided that eight-month-old Charlie Gard, who suffers from a rare genetic condition and has brain damage, should move to a palliative care regime and be allowed to "die with dignity".

Lawyers said Chris Gard and Connie Yates, who wanted their son to have a treatment trial in America, were devastated.

They said the couple wanted to challenge Mr Justice Francis's ruling in the Court of Appeal.

Hospital bosses say doctors will continue to provide life-support treatment until appeal decisions have been made.

Specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London had asked the judge to rule that withdrawing life-support treatment would be lawful.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates with their son Charlie Gard
Chris Gard and Connie Yates with their son Charlie Gard

Mr Gard and Miss Yates, who are both in their early 30s and live in Bedfont, west London, wanted to take Charlie to the United States for experimental therapy.

They had launched an appeal on a GoFundMe website and raised more than £1.2 million (€1.41 million) to pay for treatment in the USA after more than 80,000 people pledged money.

Mr Justice Francis granted Great Ormond Street's application after analysing the case at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London over three days.

He said he had reached his conclusion with the "heaviest of hearts" but with "complete conviction" that a move to palliative care was in Charlie's best interests.

Mr Justice Francis, one of the newest High Court judges in England and Wales, paid tribute to the couple and said they had shown "absolute dedication" to their "wonderful boy".

The judge, who had visited Charlie at Great Ormond Street, said it has been his "sad duty" to apply the law relating to a terminally-ill child's best interests when doctors and parents could not agree.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates at The Royal Courts of Justice in London
Chris Gard and Connie Yates at The Royal Courts of Justice in London

"I know this is the darkest day for Charlie's parents who have done everything they possibly could for him," he said.

"My heart goes out to them as I know it does for every person who has listened to this tragic case."

He said the couple had done what any parent would in trying to find a cure and treatment.

Mr Gard and Miss Yates sank their heads into their hands and wept as the judge announced his decision.

They left the court building without listening to him spell out the detailed reasoning behind his ruling.

Barrister Pravin Fernado, who represented the couple, told Mr Justice Francis that they wanted to appeal.

The couple's solicitor, Laura Hobey-Hamsher, said their immediate priority was to spend time with Charlie.

Doctors can withdraw life-support treatment from the baby with a rare genetic condition against his parents' wishes, a High Court judge has ruled
Doctors can withdraw life-support treatment from the baby with a rare genetic condition against his parents' wishes, a High Court judge has ruled

She said they had three weeks to formulate an appeal and wanted time to consider their next step.

"Chris and Connie are devastated by today's decision," she said after the hearing.

"They are struggling to understand why the court has not at least given Charlie the chance of treatment in America."

She said the couple were "profoundly grateful" for people's "help and generosity", and added: "The support and phenomenal kindness of countless people has been a source of strength."

Mr Justice Francis heard that Charlie, who was born on August 4, had a form of mitochondrial disease, a condition which causes progressive muscle weakness and brain damage.

Specialists in the USA had offered a therapy called nucleoside.

But the judge said experts were agreed that the treatment could not reverse Charlie's structural brain damage.

He said experimentation might benefit medical science but could not benefit Charlie.

Mr Justice Francis said Great Ormond Street doctors had considered the experimental treatment on offer in America but decided that it would not help the youngster.

He said the case had never been "about money".

A GoFundMe spokesman said officials would have discussions with Charlie's parents about what would happen to the money raised for treatment.

He said: "We'll be speaking privately to the family in the next few days about what they want to do and how we can support them."

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