In a few weeks’ time the High Court will hear an application from the parents of Tafida Raqeeb, a five-year-old Muslim girl in a semi-comatose state following a brain injury in February, to allow them to take their daughter for treatment in Italy.
The Royal London Hospital, where the girl is being treated, opposes the move and says that being allowed to die is in Tafida’s “best interests” – the euphemism employed by the media to describe the withdrawal of her life support and feeding tubes.
Tafida’s case bears similarities to that of Charlie Gard, who died in a London hospice in 2017 after his parents were refused permission to take him from the Great Ormond Street Hospital to the United States for experimental treatment. It also has elements in common with the case of Alfie Evans, who died in Liverpool last year after his parents lost a court battle to fly him to a Vatican-owned hospital for treatment.
It is inevitable therefore that the case will provoke huge interest from the public. It raises such important questions as who decides that death is in the best interests of a sick child, and whether parents have the right to seek treatment elsewhere once doctors in Britain have apparently given up on a patient.
Possibly in anticipation of the resurgence of a vocal movement of support akin to the “Alfie’s Army” which accompanied the Evans case, Westminster auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington, the lead bishop on life issues of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has already called for caution and sobriety.
“The tragic illness and circumstances of little Tafida Raqeeb will touch everyone who hears of it. I hope it will also move them to pray, as it does me,” he said.
“Difficult dilemmas have to be faced. In that process, I hope that all due weight will be given to the wishes of her parents, while also respecting the clinical judgment of the doctors caring for her. Those of us not in possession of all the relevant information might best be reserved in our judgment.
“I trust that the doctors from the Gaslini Children’s Hospital in Genoa will be given time and opportunity to come to a well-informed view and to share their prognosis with their colleagues here in London. Such international cooperation is essential good practice in the care of tragically difficult lives.”
Such an appeal to common sense sounds like a sensible way forward. Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the Royal London Hospital, is adamant, however, that nothing else can be done for Tafida and has asked the High Court to give its opinion on whether it is legitimate to end her treatment.
“This is a sad situation, in which our teams continue to work very closely with the family to include them and offer our support,” said a spokesman.
“Our expert clinicians caring for the child consider, in discussion with additional medical experts from specialist centres outside of the Trust, that further medical treatment would not improve the child’s condition and would not be in the child’s best interests.”
Shelina Begum and Mohammed Raqeeb, the child’s parents, disagree strongly with such an analysis and are insistent that their daughter should at least have the chance of treatment by doctors at the Gaslini Children’s Hospital, who say they may be able to help her.
After all, unlike in previous high-profile cases, Tafida is not suffering any underlying incurable, genetic or other medical condition.
According to Ms Begum, an articulate London-based lawyer, she is neither dying nor brain dead but is showing signs of gradual recovery. Her brain is not completely damaged by the injury, she says, adding that children have shown terrific capacity for recovery from such injuries if they are given the time.
Her daughter has a sleep and wake cycle, is able to feel pain, can voluntarily move her limbs, face, lips, mouth and head and can track her parents with her eyes as they move around the room, she says.
To Shelina, her breathing is also improving. Her ventilator is on the lowest setting, and she does not require any additional oxygen to be administered.
As if to prove the point, the family posts pictures and videos regularly on the “Save Tafida” Facebook page and some show the girl clearly conscious and moving her eyes and arms as she gazes toward the parent holding the camera.
The family believes that the facts are on their side, and has requested supporters to help meet their legal and care costs through a GoFundMe web page. But they have yet to overcome a British medico-legal establishment which has so far obstinately refused to concede, for whatever reasons, that it can ever be in the best interests of a gravely ill child to be moved from a British hospital to be treated overseas.
This in itself is a mystery which will require some explanation, as the world wonders once again why the British state appears opposed to the right to life of a child – and to the rights of parents to give their children a chance.
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