LONDON (AP) — A judge at Britain’s High Court ruled Wednesday that life support for a terminally ill 8-month-old baby should be withdrawn in a hospice or hospital, despite efforts by the infant’s parents and the Italian government to transport her to Italy for further treatment.
The parents of baby Indi Gregory, who has a rare metabolic disorder known as mitochondrial disease, have fought legal battles in a bid to continue life support for their child. But a judge has ruled that doctors can lawfully limit life-supporting invasive treatment, because continuing with the treatment would not be in the child’s best interests.
The legal tussle is the latest in a series of similar cases in Britain that saw doctors and parents spar over the treatment of terminally ill children and the respective rights and responsibilities of parents and medical professionals.
In a written ruling, Justice Robert Peel said he accepted the evidence of medical specialists at the Queen’s Medical Center in Nottingham arguing that treatment for Indi should be withdrawn in a hospice or hospital.
The baby’s parents had hoped to fly Indi to Italy — where the Vatican’s pediatric hospital, Bambino Gesu, has offered to care for her — or failing that bring the infant home for end-of-life care.
But Justice Peel ruled it was “too dangerous” to send the baby home “given the clinical complications.”
“There are a number of factors which render extubation and palliative care at the family home all but impossible, and certainly contrary to (Indi’s) best interests,” he said.
He had already ruled that a transfer to Italy would not be in the baby’s best interests, and Court of Appeal judges have backed that decision.
The campaign group Christian Concern, which is supporting Indi’s parents, said the parents plan to appeal the ruling. The group also said that the Italian hospital’s general manager, who has been appointed as Indi’s guardian, was seeking an urgent meeting with the Queen’s Medical Center Wednesday.
Britain’s National Health Service says there is no current cure for mitochondrial disease, which means a patient’s cells aren’t able to produce enough energy to operate properly. The fatal disease has caused progressive brain damage in baby Indi, leaving her totally dependent on life support, according to evidence presented to the High Court in London.
Justice Peel has said his decision was based on findings that Indi was critically ill, had no prospect of improvement and an “extremely limited quality of life,” combined with evidence that she experienced frequent pain as a result of her treatment.
His decision has not changed despite offers from the Italian government this week to airlift Indi to the Vatican hospital and pay for any treatment in Italy. The Italian government has also granted Indi citizenship to help facilitate her transport and treatment.
Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni said Monday she would “do what I can do to defend (Indi’s) life” and “defend the right of her mamma and papa to do all that they can for her.”
But Peel said a letter from the Vatican hospital provided little detail about the proposed treatment for Indi, and there was no evidence that experimental treatments would improve her quality of life. Instead, he said continuation of treatment would “perpetuate a high level of pain and suffering” for the baby.
Dean Gregory, Indi’s father, said it was “disgraceful” for doctors and British courts to ignore the offer from Italy’s government.
“As a father I have never asked or begged for anything in my life, but I am now begging the British government to please help prevent our daughter’s life from being taken away,” he said in a statement released through Christian Concern.
In recent years Britain’s judges and doctors have repeatedly come under criticism from Christian groups and others, including politicians in Italy and Poland, for upholding decisions to end life support for terminally ill children when that conflicts with the parents’ wishes.
Under British law, the key test in such cases is whether a proposed treatment is in the best interests of the child.