LONDON — Archie Battersbee, a 12-year-old British boy whose life support was withdrawn after a legal battle between his parents and doctors, died Saturday, his mother said, ending another harrowing case of who does life and death decisions for a seriously ill child.
Archie had been in a deep coma since his mother found him unconscious at their home in Essex, southeast England, on April 7 with something tied around his neck. His mother, Hollie Dance, said he may have been participating in an online challenge.
In a series of rulings, judges found that Archie had suffered severe brain damage and that the burdens of treating his condition “together with the complete lack of prospect of recovery” outweighed the benefits of continuing to keep him alive on a ventilator.
Archie’s family appealed the decisions, saying they wanted to let him die at a time “chosen by God”. They argued that because of his Christian beliefs and the thoughts he had expressed in the past, Archie’s intention would be to continue on life support.
On Wednesday night, after unsuccessful appeals at three different courts in a week, the family asked for Archie to be moved to a hospice. Doctors at the Royal London Hospital refused because of the risks associated with moving him, saying it would likely cause “premature deterioration”, and the family’s legal efforts to overturn the decision were also rejected.
Ms Dance had described doctors’ decision to schedule a time to come off life support as a “choreographed execution of my son”. He asked why parents “have their decisions and rights taken away.”
In Britain, when parents and doctors disagree about what is in a child’s best interests, a court is called in to decide. Similar high-profile cases have emerged in recent years, such as those of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans. Pope Francis stood on both of these occasions and Donald J. Trump, when he was president, offered help from the United States for 11-month-old Charlie.
Experts said such painful dilemmas reflected a shift from when doctors made the final call, with decisions viewed not only as medical but also ethical. If parents disagree with doctors, almost impossible questions arise, such as what kind of life is worth living and how serious a child’s condition must be before it is judged that there is no chance of recovery.
In Archie’s case, doctors said they believed his brain stem was dead. Due to the lack of response, however, doctors were unable to perform a full brainstem examination, so he was not declared legally brain dead.
At the hearings, the judges sided with the medical evidence supporting the conclusion that Archie had no prospect of recovery. They ruled that medical support “serves only to prolong his death, while it cannot prolong his life,” according to court documents.
Ms Dance said Archie’s condition was better than doctors described in court. He said she had shown signs of improvement, adding that he had even shaken her hand.
Archie’s father Paul Battersbee has kept a lower profile during the legal battles but has supported efforts to keep him on life support.
Dominic Wilkinson, professor of medical ethics at the University of Oxford, said the issue came down to a fundamental question.
“It’s what medicine is for», he said. “It is to make us better, so that we can live and enjoy our lives. But sometimes all the medicine can do is prolong the dying phase. And sometimes medicine, frankly, does more harm than good.”
But, he added, on this issue, doctors and families sometimes disagreed.
“Families may sometimes want to prolong life at all costs,” he said, “while health professionals recognize that medicine has reached its natural limits.”
Last week, after the British Supreme Court refused to intervene to delay the withdrawal of life support, Ms. Dance applied to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an arm of the agency’s human rights agency. The agency said it had asked the British government to refrain from withdrawing the treatment while the case was under review.
“All we’ve asked for is more time,” Ms Dance said in a statement at the time. “The urgency from the hospital and the courts is inexplicable.”
“I don’t believe there is anything ‘decent’ about planning Archie’s death,” he added. “Parents need support, not pressure.”
But on Monday, the court refused to extend a pause beyond noon on Tuesday, arguing that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, under which the United Nations committee had made its request, was a ” unincorporated international treaty’ and that the decision to withdraw life support could stand.
The family asked on Tuesday to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but the request was rejected. The next morning, they filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights, which declined to intervene.
On Saturday, shortly after his life support was withdrawn at 10am, Archie died.
“I wouldn’t want any other parents to go through what we went through,” Ms Dance told Times Radio on Wednesday, adding that she plans to continue to raise awareness of issues such as online challenges involving children and “use Archie’s story we hope they save their lives.”