High court rejects family’s request to let Archie Battersbee die in hospice

The high court has rejected an application by the family of Archie Battersbee to allow him to die “with dignity” in a hospice rather than a hospital after hearing evidence that the risks of transferring the 12-year-old were “major and unpredictable”.

His mother, Hollie Dance, said a “dignified passing at a hospice” was all she had left to fight for after the family exhausted all legal routes to maintain his life support treatment. She said she wanted her son to “spend his last moments” privately with family.

But on Friday, the high court refused the family’s request to move Archie from the Royal London hospital.

Mrs Justice Theis said she had taken her decision in the light of evidence from a doctor treating Archie that the risks of moving him were “major and unpredictable” and that he is becoming more fragile.

“I am satisfied that when looking at the balancing exercise again his best interests remain … that he should remain at the hospital when treatment is withdrawn,” Theis said in her judgment.

“The circumstances outlined by Dr F of the physical arrangements at the hospital and the arrangements that can be made will ensure that Archie’s best interest will remain the focus of the final arrangements to enable him peacefully and privately to die in the embrace of the family he loved.”

Theis refused permission to appeal against her decision but imposed a stay on it until 2pm on Friday to enable Archie’s parents to appeal directly to the court of appeal. Their lawyer, James Bogle, had protested that they needed more time to prepare an appeal, but Fiona Paterson for Barts Health NHS trust said that every day Archie remained on life support treatment was contrary to his best interests. The court of appeal received written submissions on Friday afternoon, and was considering its decision.

One of the argued grounds of appeal is that Theis did not allow an application for expert evidence from “Dr R”, a consultant in paediatric respiratory medicine, made by the parents just before Thursday’s hearing.

Outlining her decision not to grant the application for expert assessment, Theis said that the court had heard evidence from Dr F “the treating specialist who has detailed knowledge of Archie’s current position” and that Dr R had not worked in a paediatric intensive care unit since 2008.

She added: “Dr R takes little issue with what Dr F set out, other than the assessment of risks involved in transfer which he recognises he has no detailed information about Archie’s clinical position or background.”

Archie has been in a coma since 7 April when he suffered a catastrophic brain injury. His mother believes he choked while taking part in a viral social media challenge. On Wednesday, the European court of human rights refused to intervene in the case, which was his parent’s last hope of preventing his life support being removed.

During Thursday’s hearing, the court heard from Ms C, Archie’s brother’s fiancee. She said that the family believed Archie would not die with peace and dignity if his treatment was withdrawn at the hospital, partly due to a breakdown in trust. By contrast, she said the hospice would offer a more peaceful setting, had better facilities to accommodate the family, and Archie would be able to stay there for longer after his death than at the hospital.

But Dr F outlined a series of risks, including Archie’s blood pressure dropping, human error dislodging medication tubes when he was moved or equipment failure.

“Archie has what she described as a bespoke care regime to meet his particular needs,” Theis said in her judgment. “Once he leaves the hospital Archie would be with people who would be unfamiliar with his particular care needs and would be caring for Archie in very different circumstances, in the confines of a vehicle and a reduced care team.”

Concluding her judgment, Theis said she recognised “the enormity of what lies ahead for Archie’s parents and the family. Their unconditional love and dedication to Archie is a golden thread that runs through this case. I hope now Archie can be afforded the opportunity for him to die in peaceful circumstances, with the family who meant so much to him as he clearly does to them.”

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