Seriously-ill baby dies after court rules medics can stop treatment

Updated: 

A seriously-ill baby who doctors said did not seem able to smile has died after a High Court judge ruled that medics could stop providing life-support treatment.

Mr Justice Keehan had concluded on August 25 that the six-month-old girl should move to a palliative care regime.

He had analysed issues at a two-day hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

The little girl, who was in local authority care, had a range of health problems and had never left hospital, the judge was told.

Doctors said the burdens that continued treatment would place on her outweighed any benefits, and they wanted to move her to a palliative care regime.

Social services bosses, who had responsibility for her welfare, had disagreed.

Mr Justice Keehan said the little girl could not be identified.

She was in the care of Nottingham City Council and was being treated by medics who work for Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

A lawyer involved in the case said the little girl had died "peacefully in her mother's arms" on August 31.

The little girl had been born about 14 weeks premature and had suffered brain damage during birth, Mr Justice Keehan had heard.

Specialists said she had a ''complex pattern'' of medical problems and would have no meaningful sight, would not be able to communicate, would have no significant voluntary muscle movement and would not be able to feed herself or enjoy food.

They said she was likely to need long-term respiratory support or ventilation, a tracheostomy and a feeding tube.

Doctors thought that she would die before she was five.

One specialist told Mr Justice Keehan that the little girl did not seem able to smile.

He said babies initially acted on instinct and the emergence of a smile was an indicator of cognitive function.

Lawyers for Nottingham council said bosses did not agree that the burden of treatment outweighed the likely benefit.

They said it was "far too early" to conclude that she not be able to "derive benefit from continued life".

"This is a tragic case,'' Mr Justice Keehan had said.

''She is locked in her body unable to see, hear, communicate or respond to her environment.''

He said she had permanent and severe brain damage.

''The only benefit of (her) undergoing surgical procedures would be in an attempt to prolong her life,'' he added.

''Sadly I have concluded that would bring no real benefits to (her) at all.''

He said evidence showed that the little girl felt pain but did not experience pleasure - and doctors feared that they would not be able to relieve her pain.

''What benefits will (she) gain?'' the judge asked. ''Sadly all the evidence points one way - none.''

He added: ''I am completely satisfied that the only course to be taken in (her) best interests is to withdraw her current life-sustaining treatment and to moveĀ her to a palliative regime and allow her to die peacefully in the arms of her loving parents.''

Little detail about the girl's family background emerged.

The judge was told that her parents had health problems and learning difficulties. Both were represented by lawyers at the hearing.

Her father had said that he loved his daughter deeply and he did not want her to suffer unnecessarily.

But he said he could not bring himself to say treatment should be withdrawn, and wanted a judge to decide.

Her mother said she thought that medics had done the ''best possible'' and she wanted her daughter to ''pass away peacefully''.

Mr Justice Keehan said medics should be ''highly commended'' for all they had done for the little girl.

Lawyers for the trust had told the judge that staff would make the little girl's final days as comfortable as possible - and said she would be placed in the ''best possibleĀ setting'' for her parents.