Doctors must withdraw life support from twins - UK judge

Xavier Symons
24 Oct 2015
Reproduced with Permission

The UK High Court has ruled that two severely intellectually disabled Iraqi twins must have their life support switched off, despite objection from their parents. The boys, who died earlier this month after the ruling was made, were 14 months old and suffering from a progressive and incurable neurodegenerative disorder; they were being kept on life support in a hospital in Manchester.

Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust, which had cared for the unnamed boys since April 2015, brought the case to court after doctors became convinced that they were needlessly prolonging the boys' pain and suffering and that it would be unethical to continue ventilating them.

Following decisions made in similar cases, High Court Justice James Holman ruled that the continuation of life support for the children was futile and therefore the hospital could turn of ventilation.

"To artificially to prolong their lives …lacks any purpose, confers no benefit at all apart from the fact of physical survival, and involves perpetuating the infliction of pain and discomfort for no gain or purpose", Justice Holman said.

The parents of the boys, devout Muslims who had come to the UK in late 2014, were arguing that it was against their Islamic faith to withdraw life support before the children's brains had stopped working. The boys' father had argued that a 1987 resolution by the Islamic Fiqh Council of the Muslim World League stated that life support could be withdrawn when all functions of the brain had stopped working finally. Justice Holman rejected the argument.

"I have the utmost respect for the father's faith and belief, and for the faith of Islam which he practises and professes. But I regard it as irrelevant to the decision which I have to take and I do not take it into account at all."

The case is similar to many others that have been brought before UK courts and other common law jurisdictions. The UK High Court itself recently ruled that Olivia Stacy, a 1-year-old British girl suffering from severe cancer and organ failure, should have her life support turned off .