Thursday 14 November 2019

Court won't force boy to have cancer treatment

Tim Healy

THE parents of a four-year-old boy objecting to continued life-saving cancer treatment for him should be given time to explore other medical opinions, the president of the High Court said yesterday.

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said it would be wrong for him to direct the child, who has leukaemia, to undergo further "distressing" treatment in circumstances where there was no imminent threat to his life and where the parents wanted to seek a second opinion from abroad.

The judge said he was therefore adjourning until May 3 an application by the HSE for an order that the child, who has Down Syndrome, be given treatment recommended by doctors here against the wishes of the parents.

The court heard the child was in remission and the parents, who had already consented to 23 weeks of treatment last year, were prepared to give further permission if there was any relapse.

In the meantime, however, they wanted time to consult cancer experts abroad.

The HSE brought the application last week after the court was told the boy needed life-saving treatment.

Yesterday, Felix McEnroy, counsel for the HSE, said the parents had taken the view that if there was any relapse, they would immediately re-engage with the treatment.

However, the hospital was saying if the treatment was completed the boy would have an 80pc chance of survival, which was extraordinary in this situation, Mr McEnroy said.

The HSE was obliged to vindicate the rights of the child, he added.

While the HSE respected the rights of the parents to fair procedures, time was running out and the risks were unacceptable.

The court heard earlier this week that the boy's parents were not prepared to go to the next more "intensive stage" of treatment and that their objections were scientific rather than philosophical.

When the matter came back before Mr Justice Kearns yesterday, he said he would like to talk to the parents in the hope that resorting to the courts could be avoided.


The judge spoke with them in private and afterwards said he was satisfied they were completely responsible and had the best interests of the child at heart.

He was also satisfied they understood the concerns of the hospital and that it was operating in accordance with international practice.

In addition, he was satisfied they understood that by deferring treatment, this ran the risk of a dis-improvement in the boy's condition.

However, there was no imminent risk to him by a reasonably short deferral of the matter until May 3, he said.

The judge added that he hoped the enquiries the parents made over the next two weeks would bring them to a situation where they had the best possible knowledge available.

Irish Independent

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