Archie Battersbee, the boy at the heart of the British court battle, dies after life support ends

Written by Javed Iqbal

ONE 12-year-old boy who had been in a coma for four months died on Saturday in a London hospital after doctors ended the life-sustaining treatment his family had been fighting to continue.

Archie Battersbee’s mother, Hollie Dance, said her son died at 12:15 p.m., about two hours after the hospital began withdrawing treatment. British courts had rejected both the family’s attempts to extend treatment and a request to move Archie to a hospice, saying neither move was in the child’s best interests.

“I’m the proudest mom in the world,” Dance said as she stood outside the hospital crying. “Such a beautiful little boy and he fought right to the end.”

Great Britain Life Support Battle
Undated family handout photo of Archie Battersbee, whose parents have made an application to the European Court of Human Rights in an attempt to delay the withdrawal of his life support.

Hollie Dance / AP

The legal battle is the latest in a series of highly public British cases in which parents and doctors have sparred over who is better qualified to make decisions about a child’s medical care. It has sparked a debate about whether there is a more appropriate way to resolve such disputes away from the courts.

Archie was found unconscious at home with a ligature over his head on April 7. His parents believe he may have taken part in an online challenge gone wrong.

Doctors concluded that Archie was brain-stem dead shortly after the accident and tried to end the long list of treatments that kept him alive, including artificial respiration, drugs to regulate his body functions and round-the-clock nursing care. But his family objected, claiming Archie had shown signs of life and would not have wanted them to give up hope.

The disagreement sparked weeks of legal arguments as Archie’s parents tried to force the hospital to continue life-sustaining treatments. Doctors at the Royal London Hospital claimed there was no chance of recovery and he should be allowed to die.

After a series of courts ruled that it was in Archie’s best interests that he be allowed to die, the family asked for permission to move him to a hospice. The hospital said Archie’s condition was so unstable that moving him would hasten his death.

On Friday, Supreme Court Justice Lucy Theis rejected the family’s request and ruled that Archie should remain in hospital while treatment was withdrawn.

“Their unconditional love and dedication to Archie is a golden thread that runs through this case,” Theis wrote in her decision. “I now hope that Archie can be given the opportunity to die in peaceful circumstances with the family that meant as much to him as he clearly does to them.”

Archie Battersbee trial
The parents of Archie Battersbee, Paul Battersbee and Hollie Dance, leave the Royal Courts Of Justice in London on July 22, 2022.

Victoria Jones/PA photos via Getty Images

That decision was implemented on Saturday after both the UK Court of Appeal and the European Court of Human Rights declined to take up the case.

But Archie’s family said his death was anything but peaceful.

Ella Carter, fiancee of Archie’s oldest brother, Tom, said Archie was stable for about two hours after the hospital stopped all medication. That changed when the ventilator was turned off, she said.

“He turned completely blue,” she said. “There is absolutely nothing dignified about seeing a family member or child suffocate. No family should ever have to go through what we went through. It’s barbaric.”

Carter laid her head on Dansen’s shoulder and sobbed as the two women hugged.

The hospital expressed its condolences and thanked the doctors and nurses who had cared for Archie.

“They provided high-quality care with extraordinary compassion over several months in often trying and distressing circumstances,” said Alistair Chesser, chief medical officer for Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital. “This tragic case not only affected the family and his loved ones, but touched the hearts of many across the country.”

Legal experts insist cases like Archie’s are rare. But some disputes pitting doctors’ judgment against families’ wishes have been fought out in public, such as the 2017 legal battle over Charlie Gard, an infant with a rare genetic disorder. The parents fought unsuccessfully for him to receive experimental treatment before he died.

Under UK law, it is common for the courts to intervene when parents and doctors disagree about a child’s medical treatment. The child’s best interests take precedence over the parents’ right to decide what they think is best.

Ilora Finlay, professor of palliative medicine at Cardiff University and a member of the House of Lords, said this week that she hoped the Conservative government would hold an independent inquiry into different ways of handling these cases. Resolving such disputes through an adversarial court process does not help anyone, she said.

“The parents don’t want to go to court. The doctors don’t want to go to court. The managers don’t want to go to court,” Finlay told Times Radio. “My concern is that these cases are coming to court too quickly and too early, and that we need an alternative way to manage communication between the doctors and the parents.”

The difficulty for parents is that they are in shock and often want to deny that there has been a catastrophic brain injury, Finlay said.

“When there’s brain damage, their child often looks intact, so their face looks like it always did,” she said. “So understanding what has been going on inside the brain and the amount of damage is something that needs to be explained sensitively to the parents, and that takes time.”

Archie’s family was supported by Christian Concern, which campaigns on end-of-life issues and the role of religion in society. The group said it was a “privilege” to stand by the family.

“The events of the last few weeks raise many important questions, including questions about how death is defined, how these decisions are made and the place of the family,” said Christian Concern chief executive Andrea Williams.

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Javed Iqbal

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