LONDON – A British judge on Tuesday said the parents of a terminally ill toddler cannot take him to Italy for treatment, a course of action U.K. courts have said would be futile and wrong.
Justice Anthony Hayden rejected what he said was a final legal appeal by the parents of 23-month-old Alfie Evans, who has a degenerative neurological condition.
The judge said the ruling "represents the final chapter in the life of this extraordinary little boy."
The months-long legal battle between Alfie's parents and his doctors has drawn interventions from Pope Francis and Italian authorities, who have supported the family's desire to have their son cared for at the Vatican's hospital.
Doctors say Alfie is in a "semi-vegetative state" as a result of a degenerative brain condition that medics have been unable to identify precisely. Doctors treating him at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool say he has little brain function and further treatment is futile.
But his parents have refused to accept the decision and fought to prevent Alfie's life support being switched off. Evans, 21, and Alfie's mother Kate James, 20, want to take Alfie to the Vatican's Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital.
Lawyers for Alfie's parents had secured Tuesday's hearing a day after the toddler's lie support was withdrawn after a series of court rulings blocked further medical treatment.
Alfie's father Tom Evans said earlier Tuesday that Alfie survived for six hours with no assistance, and that doctors had subsequently resumed providing oxygen and hydration.
In court, the family's lawyer, Paul Diamond, read a statement from Tom Evans saying his son was doing "significantly better" than previously believed. Doctors say it is hard to estimate how long Alfie will live without life support, but that there is no chance his condition will improve.
At Tuesday's emergency court hearing in Manchester, the judge asked whether there might be "other options" that involved Alfie's parents taking their son home.
Emotions have run high over the case, which has seen Alfie's parents supported by a Christian charity and a band of supporters known as "Alfie's Army" protesting regularly outside the hospital. They have blocked roads and on Monday tried to storm a door of the hospital before being pushed back by police.
Pope Francis has met Alfie's father and made appeals for the boy's parents' wishes to be heeded, saying only God can decide who dies.
The head of the Bambino Gesu Hospital said the Italian defense ministry had a plane ready to transport Alfie to Italy if he were allowed. In an interview with Italian Radio 24, Mariella Enoc, who travelled to Liverpool to personally try to intervene on behalf of the parents, said she spoke to the Italian ambassador in London who said the plane could leave with him in a matter of minutes.
On Monday, the Italian foreign ministry announced it had granted Alfie Italian citizenship to facilitate his arrival and transport.
Under British law, it is common for courts to intervene when parents and doctors disagree on the treatment of a child. In such cases, the rights of the child take primacy over the parents' right to decide what's best for their offspring
The emotive case recalls the short life of another British child, Charlie Gard, who died of a rare genetic disease in July 2017 after a vicious court battle in which his parents sought treatment first in the U.S. and then Italy.
The case drew interventions from the pope and President Donald Trump, and became a flashpoint for debates on the rights of children and parents, the responsibilities of hospitals and the role of the state.
Russell Viner of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, said decisions about withdrawing treatment were never taken lightly.
"Every action and decision is taken in the best interests of the child," he said.
Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this story.
An earlier version of this story was corrected to show that the father's name is Tom, not James.