LONDON – Rejecting a bid by the parents, a British judge on Thursday upheld a court order allowing doctors to let a critically ill baby die if she stops breathing — a move doctors say is the only humane way to end the child's suffering.
Eighteen-month-old Charlotte Wyatt (search) can hardly see or hear and weighed about a pound when she was born prematurely. Her brain and other organs are so seriously damaged that she has "no feeling other than continuing pain," according to physicians.
Darren and Debbie Wyatt, who believe in preserving life at any cost, sought to overturn a court order granted in October.
But Justice Mark Hedley was not persuaded by the parents' pleas.
"I am quite clear that it would not be in Charlotte's best interests to die in the course of futile aggressive treatment," Hedley ruled Thursday at London's High Court.
Hedley said he would review the order again, probably in October.
If the baby stops breathing, she will be given treatment except for invasive routines of intubation and ventilation — "but nothing further," Hedley said.
The case echoes that of Terri Schiavo (search), a Florida woman in a vegetative state whose parents and husband fought over whether she should be allowed to die. She died March 31, almost two weeks after her feeding tube was removed by court order.
Similar cases in Britain have been rare. In 1993, the family of Tony Bland (search), a young man left in a persistent vegetative state by a soccer stadium disaster, fought unsuccessfully in court to stop doctors from removing his feeding tube.
Terminally ill baby Luke Winston-Jones (search) died last November after the High Court ruled that his doctors could withhold lifesaving treatment, against the wishes of his parents, if his condition deteriorated.
Both cases sparked fierce debate about medical ethics and the rights of doctors and parents.
Although the Wyatt case is not the first time doctors and parents have ended up in a British court in such situations, previous hearings have been held in private. Charlotte's parents and the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust (search) agreed to its being held in the open court because they felt it was in the public interest.
Charlotte was born in October 2003, just six months into her mother's pregnancy. She has had serious heart and lung problems, has never left the hospital and is fed through a tube and lives in an oxygen tent.
She has stopped breathing three times, and in October the High Court ruled that doctors at St. Mary's Hospital (search) in Portsmouth, southwest England, do not need to resuscitate her if she stops breathing again.
The Wyatts say Charlotte can see and hear to a limited extent and sometimes smiles.
The judge agreed that the baby now responds to loud noises and tracks the movement of a colorful toy — in contrast to October, when she was almost wholly unresponsive. Her life could no longer be described as intolerable, he said.
But Hedley added that Charlotte's chronic respiratory disease is still expected to be fatal and her neurological condition is as bad as it could be. Her head was still the size of a newborn baby's and there had been no brain growth, leaving her "a terminally ill child."
In a written statement read on the court steps by their lawyer, Richard Stein, the Wyatts said they would seek to appeal.
Charlotte's grandmother, Julie Wyatt, supported the child's doctors.
"Myself, I'm trusting the hospital decision at the moment because I've seen the care they've given her and I know they love her," she said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. TV. "They are not withholding any treatment at all and I do believe that if they don't resuscitate her, it is for Charlotte's best interests, to be quite honest."