European court backs UK ruling on letting sick baby die

STRASBOURG (France) • The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has said it concurred with a British decision to withdraw life support for a baby with a rare genetic disease.

Two weeks earlier, the Strasbourg-based ECHR issued an interim ruling, binding on the British government, that doctors should keep providing treatment for 10-month-old Charlie Gard, who suffers from a rare genetic condition and has brain damage.

That finding ran counter to rulings by British courts that the baby should be allowed to die with dignity, despite an appeal by his parents to take him to the United States for treatment. His illness is an extremely rare form of mitochondrial disease which causes progressive muscle weakness.

In its final ruling on Tuesday, the Strasbourg court backed the British judges.

A spokesman for Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, which has been treating Charlie, acknowledged that his parents would find Tuesday's news upsetting.

"Our thoughts are with Charlie's parents on receipt of this news that we know will be very distressing for them.

"Today's decision by the European Court of Human Rights marks the end of what has been a very difficult process and our priority is to provide every possible support to Charlie's parents as we prepare for the next steps.

"There will be no rush by Great Ormond Street Hospital to change Charlie's care and any future treatment plans will involve careful planning and discussion," the spokesman said.

Specialists at Great Ormond had asked for a legal ruling on whether it had the right to withdraw life-support treatment.

His family has raised more than £1.2 million (S$2.1 million) online for his treatment in the US, through more than 80,000 donations.

Britain's High Court ruled in April that Charlie should be allowed to "die with dignity" as there was no hope of his recovering.

High Court judge Nicholas Francis had prior to his ruling visited baby Charlie and praised the "extraordinary care" staff there had provided to the child.

Judge Francis also saluted his parents' "absolute dedication" to their child.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2017, with the headline 'European court backs UK ruling on letting sick baby die'. Print Edition | Subscribe