The parents of a seriously ill baby who want to take him to Italy for treatment have lost the latest round of their legal fight after the UK’s highest court ruled that almost all of their son’s brain had been destroyed.
Judges at the supreme court have approved a plan for withdrawing treatment to 23-month-old Alfie Evans, who has an undiagnosed degenerative neurological condition.
Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, made their second application to the supreme court after losing a second fight at the court of appeal this week.
But on Friday three supreme court justices dismissed the pair’s application, agreeing with Alfie’s doctors by saying “there is no hope of him getting better”.
Lady Hale, the supreme court president, Lord Kerr and Lord Wilson outlined their reasons in a written explanation.
They said a person unable to move because of measures taken in a hospital intensive care unit to keep them alive was not being “deprived of liberty”.
There was no reason for further delay, the justices said, adding: “The hospital must be free to do what has been determined to be in Alfie’s best interests.
“Alfie looks like a normal baby, but the unanimous opinion of the doctors who have examined him and the scans of his brain is that almost all of his brain has been destroyed.
“No one knows why. But that it has happened and is continuing to happen cannot be denied. It means that Alfie cannot breathe, or eat, or drink without sophisticated medical treatment. It also means that there is no hope of his ever getting better.”
Alfie’s father responded angrily to the decision. Writing on Facebook he said of his son: “He isn’t suffering, he isn’t in pain. He isn’t diagnosed,” adding that Alfie had been “left” on a feeding tube for 15 months.
Evans and James want to move their son from Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool to a clinic in Rome. They say Italian doctors are willing to treat the boy and an air ambulance is available.
Alfie’s medical team have successfully argued that his life support should be turned off. He has been seriously ill since having a seizure in December 2016 when he was seven months old.
Three appeal court judges had endorsed a plan drawn up by doctors this week. But they said treatment should continue until supreme court justices had made a decision.
Judges said no detail of the plan could be made public because Alfie was entitled to privacy as his life came to a close.
Alfie’s parents had previously lost one round of fights, in the high court, court of appeal, supreme court and the European court of human rights.
In February, Mr Justice Hayden ruled that doctors at Alder Hey could stop treating Alfie against the wishes of his parents, after hearings in the family division of the high court in London and Liverpool.
Specialists at Alder Hey said life-support treatment should stop and Mr Justice Hayden said he accepted medical evidence that showed further treatment was futile. He said flying Alfie to a foreign hospital would be wrong and pointless. Court of appeal judges upheld his decisions. The supreme court justices and European court of human rights’ judges refused to intervene.
Alfie’s parents had also argued that their son was being wrongly “detained” at Alder Hey and had made a habeas corpus application, which requires a court to examine the legality of a detention. It is a piece of common law which probably dates to Anglo-Saxon times.
Hayden dismissed that claim last week; appeal judges upheld his decision.
A spokeswoman for the supreme court said: “Having considered submissions from the parties ‘on paper’, in the usual way, the supreme court of the United Kingdom has refused permission for the parents to appeal.”
Alfie’s parents would make another appeal to courts in Strasbourg to keep their son alive, their legal representatives said.
Andrea Williams, the chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which is representing Alfie’s family, said: “We are going to appeal to the European court of human rights in the hope that we can stay the end of life order our courts have made. We are appealing today because we have got to act quickly. The parents are devoted parents.”
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