Couple saw three of their four children 'die from similar baffling illnesses', court told
Published 12/10/2015 | 13:57
A couple have seen three of their four children die after falling victim to similar baffling illnesses, a family court has heard.
They lost a daughter when she was aged eight months - now identical twin boys, aged 14 months, have died after a judge ruled that life support machinery should be switched off.
Detail emerged on Monday after Mr Justice Holman was asked to decide whether life-support treatment should be withdrawn from the twins, at hearings in the Family Division of the High Court in London.
A lawyer involved in the case had told the judge how the couple, who have a surviving four-year-old son, had been "struck by unimaginable tragedy".
Mr Justice Holman said no-one who had not been in the couple's position could appreciate their "agony".
A hospital trust with responsibility for the twins' care had asked the judge to rule that life-support treatment should end.
Mr Justice Holman was told that the family was Muslim and from Iraq, and had arrived in England in December 2014.
He heard that the couple had relatives living in areas controlled by Islamic State (IS).
The judge said he wanted to protect the couple's surviving son - and and ruled that no-one involved could be identified.
But he said the trust which had asked for a ruling could be named as the Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Barrister Lorraine Cavanagh, for the trust, said the twins had been in hospital for about eight months and were suffering from an "untreatable, progressive, neuro-degenerative disorder".
She said the trust had asked for a court ruling because specialists felt that further life-support treatment was futile and not in the twins' best interests. Specialists had not been able to diagnose the cause and the disorder was untreatable and incurable, she said.
The couple wanted the twins to be kept alive. The boys' father told Mr Justice Holman that withdrawal of life-support treatment offended the family's Muslim beliefs. He said scientists might find a cure - and said the boys should be kept alive until a cure was found.
Mr Justice Holman concluded that it would be in the twins' best interests if life-support treatment was ended, after hearing evidence from specialists and the twins' father.
The judge formally handed down his ruling on the case at a public hearing in London on Monday.
At the start of the hearing he asked lawyers, court staff and a reporter to stand in silence for a minute in memory of the children - and as a mark of respect to their parents and brother.
He said that the twins had "passed away" after life-support machinery had been turned off - and had been buried.
Mr Justice Holman had analysed evidence at a hearing in early October.
The twins' father had appeared at the hearing - and made submissions to the judge.
"No-one, which includes myself, who has not been in the position of the parents in this case can possibly truly appreciate and understand the agony with which they are faced," Mr Justice Holman said in his ruling.
"I have the utmost respect and sympathy for them in their plight."
He added: "The family is an Iraqi family who were living in Iraq. The parents have an elder son, now aged four, who is healthy and normal.
"They next had a baby daughter who, very tragically, died at the age of eight months. Her condition was not fully diagnosed; but, like that of these boys, it manifested itself in seizures and respiratory failure, and it now seems very likely that she and they were afflicted by the same, unknown, genetic disorder."
Mr Justice Holman said he was satisfied, after examining medical evidence, that the twins had "severely damaged" and "malfunctioning" brains.
"They are not functioning cognitively at all. These boys are merely artificially surviving," the judge said.
"Their situation is unquestionably irreversible, and can only deteriorate progressively further."
He added: "It seems to me that artificially to prolong their lives in this case lacks any purpose, confers no benefit at all apart from the fact of physical survival, and involves perpetuating the infliction of pain and discomfort for no gain or purpose.
"It is not in the best interests of either boy that the process be artificially prolonged."