Brain stem dead Muslim child to be taken off life support
A judge in Manchester has ordered that a Muslim baby pronounced clinically dead must be allowed the dignity of death and should be taken off life support.
In Re A (A Child)  EWHC 443 (Fam) the child had choked on the stalk of a satsuma orange on 6th February 2015. An ambulance was summoned immediately. Despite the fast response from the paramedics, who were immediately able to perform bag valve mask ventilation en route to the hospital, the child’s condition worsened. Shortly after the surgical removal of the piece of fruit, the child was given an MRI scan.
The High Court heard the scan showed extensive damage to the child’s brain. The damage was so severe that it was not possible for the child to live. The MRI scan confirmed brain stem death.
The court heard evidence from a consultant paediatrician who explained that the nerves which generated the breathing mechanism and maintained the integrity of the heart rate are all connected to the human brain stem. In simple terms, when the brain stem dies, it is impossible for a patient to breathe unassisted. Despite this prognosis the parents insisted their child remain on life support.
The child’s parents were Muslim, Saudi nationals living in the UK. The father was studying for a Ph.D. They refused to accept their child was dead because he was still breathing, so they would not allow the artificial ventilator to be switched off.
The judge, Mr Justice Hayden, recognised that in multicultural Britain there are people, particularly with strong religious affiliations, who may disagree with medical opinion as to the exact moment when death occurs in the human body.
The judge accepted the concept of the ‘breath of life’ had important spiritual significance to those following the monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It was natural, he conceded, that the devout Muslim parents would think their baby was still alive while he was on the artificial ventilation machine.
Thejudge ruled that the child was without question dead under the 2008 Academy of Medical Royal Colleges Code of Practice definition of both diagnosis and confirmation of death and he concluded that while he had heartfelt respect for the family’s religious beliefs and their wishes for their child, the life support had to be switched off.