A Catholic bioethics institute has said that a brain-damaged boy should not have a ventilator removed as long as there is a chance that he is alive.
Archie Battersbee, 12, was found unconscious at home by his mother, Hollie Dance, with a ligature around his neck.
She believes that the talented gymnast did not attempt suicide but had fallen victim to a social media challenge called “blackout”, in which people choke themselves up to the point that they pass out.
Doctors at the Royal London Hospital have concluded that Archie, of Southend, Essex, is “brain stem dead” and has no prospect of regaining consciousness. They want to take away his ventilator and harvest his organs for transplantation.
Miss Dance argues, however, that he is able to communicate with her by squeezing her hand and that his heart is still beating and has challenged the decision of Barts Health NHS Trust at the High Court in London.
But a judge ruled in favour of the doctors at a June 13 hearing, deciding on the “balance of probabilities” that it was more likely than not that Archie had died.
The Anscombe Bioethics Centre, an institute serving the Catholic Church in the UK and Ireland, issued a statement critical of the judgement, saying that a likelihood of death was not sufficient grounds to remove life support.
“It seems extraordinary that questions of life and death should be matters of a balance of probability rather than determination beyond reasonable doubt,” said Anscombe in a statement.
“No one would suggest burying someone who was ‘more likely than not’ to be dead,” the statement said.
“’Very likely dead’ is not dead enough,” it said, adding that the ruling was in clear conflict with Catholic medical ethics.
“The Catholic Church requires moral certainty of death – certainty beyond reasonable doubt – before unpaired vital organs can be taken from a body,” the Anscombe Centre continued in its statement.
“What is ‘very likely’ is not certain, and one source of doubt is the fact that Archie’s heart continues to beat.”
The High Court granted Miss Dance and the child’s father, Paul Battersbee, permission June 20 to lodge an appeal against the judgement on one of nine submitted grounds, with the other eight dismissed as having “no merit”.
The judge accepted that no evidence had showed “beyond reasonable doubt” that the boy is dead and that the parents should have the right to ask judges of the Court of Appeal to consider arguments around the “standard of proof” in the case.
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