Letting Charlotte die

Journal of Medical Ethics 30 (6):519-520 (2004)
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The High Court ruling that a premature baby should be not be resuscitatedLate in the afternoon of Thursday, 7 October 2004, Mr Justice Hedley ruled in a highly publicised dispute between parents and doctors about the future care of a severely disabled infant.1 With sadness, and some reluctance, the judge held that Charlotte Wyatt should not be subjected to any further invasive or aggressive treatment to prolong her life, despite her parents’ insistence that she be given every chance to survive a little longer. The judgment was limited in scope. The judge did no more than authorise Charlotte’s doctors “in the event of a disagreement between the parents and themselves, not to send the child for artificial ventilation or similar aggressive treatment”.The fate of baby Charlotte attracted massive media coverage. Just a week later another dispute between a mother and her child’s doctors hit the headlines.2 A third dispute about the care of an older child also looks likely to end up in court.3 However, Charlotte’s case is unusual only in that the case was heard in open court and because it attracted such publicity. For at least 23 years,4 the Family Division of the High Court in England has heard a series of cases when parents and professionals have profoundly disagreed about how best to treat, or not to treat, a very sick baby. As happened in Charlotte’s case, the courts have usually,5 in the end, endorsed the professionals’ judgment about the best interests of the infant. The coincidence of three such high profile cases has prompted speculation that parents will …



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